Thursday, 25 April 2013

Craigslist Cantata  is a refreshing hit of bubbly

Cyber-ad snippets from Craigslist thrust into a crisp and bubbly cabaret motif is what you see and what you get in ACT’s 2013 re-mount of last year’s PuSh Festival hit Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata (CC).

CC is a show offbeat and quirky and wholly original with music and acting vignettes to match : the standing ovation it received opening night was genuine and spontaneous, not one of those valentine candy hearts Vancouverites hand out ritually.

It’s the creation of Bill Richardson, noted CBC radio host, along with local indie composer Veda Hille who prides herself on scripting “eccentric musicals”.  In the current production Marguerite Witvoet takes her place; she thumps the baby grand on stage and sings gustily just like my a cappella teacher used to do.

CC features some 40-odd song-bites taken directly from or inspired by actual Craigslist want ads, the majority source being the “Missed Connections” link under the “Personals” category off that site. All of the material ranges from the curious to the obscure and plain perverse, like the guy offering to look after peoples’ pets once Jesus “raptures” them.

During the closing medley of one-liners a choir of posters identify themselves or the object of their desire – such as “You were the one who threw up on Skytrain” (?!). The natural rhetorical question from Missed Connections is then posed : “What’s the chance you’ll read this, and if you do you’ll say ‘Who needs this…’!”

All the tunes are performed by four actors who rhyme off the mini-stories Richardson anthologized and Hille put her musical magic wand to. Strongest performances opening night were from Bree Greig whose big voice and snappy footwork keep her in primary focus. Her number enumerating the qualities the new roommate she seeks must not have was a true crowd-pleaser. But fact is the newcomer to the current production, Jessie-winning Josh Epstein, gives as good as Greig in both voice and stage action. His bit as an Eastern Euro reaching out to the black-black lady whom he swoon-dances to was choreographed wonderfully – utterly tight and true bit of cabaret the crowd cheered over.

J. Cameron Barnett turns in many poignant takes, particularly in two bits, one where he writes to a clown in stilts he saw downtown: “I was the guy who took your picture, I am single, living mid-town, I’d like to take you out to dance, and more…” though the slapstick dry hump stage direction was just wrong. In another bit he reaches out into the cybervoid to find a man “to get together and drink coffee and hug – in our underwear – I’m not gay or anything – it’s sort of a male-bonding thing.” This one he milks of its every campy, wincing ounce.

Selina Martin’s husky voice turned in a touching story of the woman trying to find new homes for 14 hats she’d made over the years for her cherished cat Snowman, who’d just died. Martin also riffs nicely on electric guitar as well as taking a violin bow to a carpenter's saw in one number with haunting effect. Her singing and guitar in “looking for a metal-head roommate for a metal-head house” was big sound and big laugh both.

Director Amiel Gladstone exploits his cast wonderfully well. The quick-step blocking and pirouette staging envelop the intimate Revue Stage room. Resident set designer Ted Roberts suspends a variety of lamps and lampshades above the stage, mostly 70’s macramé and parchment paper balls plus ersatz Victorian chandeliers, all of which symbolize how styles tend to recycle. Costumes by Darryl Milot could be Commercial Drive either 1969 or 2013, effective eclectics, more recycling. Lighting by John Webber was very cleverly designed to highlight individual performers on isolated squidges of stage at a time.

Noteworthy is that the title of the piece is really just the last half of a couplet that is reprised wistfully four or five times throughout the night : “God I want what you have – do you want what I have got…?” What these anonymous cyber-adsters reveal is primarily what they “have got” is the human condition rampant in today's first world : lifestyles that are goofy and weird and superficial and largely innocent, much of the time. 

But the ache of what French sociologist Emile Durkheim termed back in fin de siecle 19th century as anomie – peoples’ longing and desperation and disorientation in a world where competition is god and social isolation is almost epidemic. This existential ache is a lingering afternote in every song and lyric Hille and Richardson produce. 

Nevermind what it might have been 100+ years ago in the industrial revolution before women had the vote. Take to-day's "advances" on all that through technology. Everyone knows there is no soul in cyberspace – but somehow a lot of folks just can’t stop looking for it there anyway. Their virtual lives crave virtual love and that's all they get –if they're "lucky". A bit melancholy all this stuff for sure, even with its  instances of ironic humour. 

But the big picture is that CC is clever writ very large indeed, one of the most refreshing and effervescent evenings of Vancouver theatre BLR has enjoyed in the year-plus this blog has run. And run you should, too, to take this in – quick-quick-quick – in the short month it’s here. Until May 18th. 


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