Thursday 23 April 2015

Stationary is sassy & fresh & chirpy...!

Flashback memory : In Tennessee Ernie Ford's only pop chart mega-hit, 16 Tons from 1955, he moans that a shift of hard labour gets you nothing but "another day older and deeper in debt".

As a 20-something, she's too young to remember TEF and his hokey cowboy ditty, but Christine Quintana's script of Stationary re-tells this tale nonetheless. This time out it's about desk-stuck Millennials. And the fun of it all is that while they push paper and tap keyboards with their left hands, their right hands are never far from a musical instrument, their feet and voices just a grace note away from song-&-dance. A perfect metaphor for peoples' left-brain drudge work -vs- their right-brain creative juices.

Backdrop to the script : "Stationary". That's what the Millennials feel is their lot in life. Particularly in Vancouver, Quintana suggests. High student debt loads, an extremely competitive and tight job market, little if any prospect of owning real estate while their parents are still alive -- this is the recession-era life she writes about in lyrics put to music by her friend and UBC Theatre School classmate Mishelle Cuttler. Imagine Avenue Q without the puppetry and you're pretty close.

The current mount by Delinquent Theatre is its third in three years. On the eve of its 2012 launch, Quintana tweeted both pointedly and poignantly : "Instead of naming the tabs of my spreadsheet 'budget' and 'actuals', they say 'DREAMS' and 'REAL LIFE'." And it is this challenge she throws out anew for 2015 audiences : how to keep hope and enthusiasm alive while plodding through the day-to-day rituals of life tied to a desk. New? No. But a genuinely fresh and sassy look at an old theme with tres clever music to boot.

Co-founder of Delinquent, Quintana describes her troupe's mandate as one "that brings socially relevant theatre to modern audiences, and creates and disperses new Canadian theatre. We like to make theatre that is elegant, subversive, intellectual and ruthless. We believe in good theatre and good times." Stationary delivers Delinquent's mission statement well indeed in their current run at the Cultch.

The show's plotline : Nine young people work for a company called Northern Light Communications. Not as Mad Men knock-offs, for sure. NLC's primary work is to sell contracts to companies for print-ad placements in periodicals -- hardly creative, mostly mechanical and repetitive exercises in phone sales. True "day job" stuff. Notionally Stationary sets up some dramatic tension : who will get the assistant manager position and the dubious chance to work as subordinate to Anna (Mishelle Cuttler), a snoopy neurasthenic nincompoop who talks in contemporary office psycho-babble. Mel (Meaghan Chenosky) describes Anna as "expertly passive with a dose of low self-esteem". 

Along the way pet jealousies & snivelry play out, office romance gives rise to a flirtsy song or two, conspiracies are chewed over how the deskers might get even with Anna who utters numerous gems like "I wasn't looking to open a dialogue, but I always appreciate your feedback." (Aside : As I reflect on nearly 45 years spent mostly in human resource bureaucracies, all this sings a very familiar tune indeed. Whining and whinging graduate to complaints, then to overt criticism, and finally to grievances [whose root comes from "grieve" and "grievous" -- as in "grievous bodily harm".] That Millennials are not free from this familiar workplace algorithm is comforting to me in an ironic and mildly cynical way.)

75 minutes of wit await : As the lights come up, the workers traipse in to NLC on a Monday morning led by Britta (Claire Hesselgrave) who is nursing a monstrous hangover and announces she's "one day closer to death". On her heels is the newby kid Aiden (Anton Lipovetsky) who says their jobs encourage "The kind of getting-by you learn to fake." Together the group choruses : "Keep calm and stay in line, tell yourself you're doin' fine" [though Britta chimes in she needs to "stop to puke and cry" on occasion].

From their simulated sales calls, the cast flips into song-&-dance mode playing a variety of instruments including ukulele, piano, violin, cello, electric bass, faux synthesizer, glockenspiel, trombone, trumpet, tambourine et al. Adding a contempo-indie voice, the Mr. Schmooze salesman character Brad (Brian Cochrane) performs a couple of sets of rap lyrics he wrote to Aiden's accompanying breathy mic-beats. 

Cuttler does a turn in the song "Sorry -- 8-year-old me" that is touching : she sings of always being an in-charge gal and head of her class at UBC's Sauder School of Business who forever had lunch alone. "I'm the friendly neighbourhood bitch next door, the boys club should have room for me," she laments. 

Mild-mannered receptionist Lizzie (Christine Quintana) tells Aiden, whom she's smitten by, that the weekly stationery order is the hi-lite of her week. She enjoys a wee epiphany at the end : "Why is it we try to protect ourselves from the fact that life is shitty sometimes?", while Britta proclaims "All that's ever coming is weight-gain and death!"

The show's closer is a kind of millennial anthem or coda to the night's showcase of contemporary angst and edge : "Tomorrow never comes too soon / Tomorrow you're my best friend!" the troupe sings ensemble, instrument solos galore. "Tomorrow I can start over, but it might turn out the same!" Aiden frets, adding "I'm too old to just let go, too young for regret." It's a surge of triumphant madcap laughing sorrow, like drunks playing Ha! Then out they march on Friday night, single file, solo, set to start their same old sales calls all over again come Monday mourning. 

Production values aplenty : Stationary is a chirpy, chipper, and sassy mini-musical that grabs. Kudos to playwright / lyricist Quintana and music score composer Cuttler for a clever contemporary cut at how life looks to today's Echo Boomers. 

Chief acting nod clearly goes to Claire Hesselgrave (Britta), the wasp-tongued redhead complainer non-pareil whose singing pipes are on a par with both Quintana's and Cuttler's, too -- though all musical the performers turned in fine sounds -- but whose sheer zest for her role claimed the night's top honours (followed closely by Lipovetsky and Cochrane).

Kayla Dunbar's choreography was nifty and tight for the diminutive and personal Cultch Historic stage. Lauchlin Johnston's set of office cubicles and fluorescent overheads was spot-on, the characters' spy-hop antics a delight.

Oh yes. BLR's customary kvetch.  Actors : you need not do Shout-outs! each time you utter the F-word or the S-word or the B-word. No one I know would say something like : "Who cares, it doesn't make any fucking difference!" They would say "Who cares, it doesn't make any fucking difference!" Minor boeuf for sure, but an irritant in this production same as I find it in most I see.  

Who gonna like : There are laughs and smiles and the odd tear galore to come from this original score and script. While contemporary workplace existential angst as a theme is not new in the least, fact is the struggles Millennials face in the marketplaces of work and home life and personal accomplishment are different from what we their parents faced. This show is fresh and witty and charming and worth every minute. 

Particulars : Produced by Delinquent Theatre (Vancouver) in presentation with The Cultch at its Historic Theatre site on Venables. Through May 2nd. Run-time 75 minutes sans intermission. Contact or phone 604.251.1363 for performance schedules and tickets.

Performance crew : Book & Lyrics by Christine Quintana.  Music by Mishelle Cuttler.  Rap Lyrics by Brian Cochrane.  Associate Director Chelsea Haberlin.  Original Director Laura McLean (co-founder of Delinquent Theatre).  Stage Manager Dani Fecko.  Choreography by Kayla Dunbar.  Musical Direction by Mishelle Cuttler.  Music Supervisor Sean Bayntun.  Percussion Consultant Sam MacKinnon.  Set Designer Lauchlin Johnston.  Costume Designer Kaitlin Williams.  Lighting Designer Darren Boquist. 

Performers :  Meaghan Chenosky.  Brian Cochrane.  Mishelle Cuttler.  Claire Hesselgrave.  Anton Lipovetsky.  Christine Quintana.  Alex Hauka.  Molly MacKinnon.  Arlen Kristian Tom. 


No comments:

Post a Comment