Saturday, 4 June 2016

Apocalypse amuses as it riffs on last days
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights : Apocalypse. Revelation. End of days. Maybe it'll be a quake or a tsunami. Or what if anthropogenic fossil fuel combustion french fries the planet ? What options ? One answer is to become a "prepper" : one who gives up protest marches and embraces instead a practical mission to survive whatever Doomsday looks like. Learn to hunt and fish. Stockpile water, tins of food, fuel to cook with. Shelter and clothing for every season unto heaven. Add a warm body, married or otherwise, to snuzzle up with. And with real estate in Metro already at cataclysmic levels, more the reason to drop off the grid. Making har-har from such dire straits seems unlikely. Unless you are emerging comic playwright Jordan Hall in her How To Survive An Apocalypse. Imagine Point Grey millennials born and fetched up in privileged times who don't see much irony in their eager, preppy pursuit of survivalism. Survival mode that must somehow still include Sunday sablefish benedict at Hawksworth's. The fun starts here.

How it's all put together : "Preppers" are so prominent S. of 49 that the esteemed National Geographic on its cable channel recently devoted 14 reality t.v. episodes to following these folks around. And, no kidding, each of the individual prepper's survival plans was critiqued by a real-time consulting firm named, fittingly, Practical Preppers. Ms. Hall mined this material for all its serio-comic possibilities. As well she became a licensed hunter in B.C. Also paid for a hunter-trainer week-end just to get a taste of the camou culture. She brings to life urbie couple Jen (Claire Hesselgrave) and Tim (Sebastien Archibald). He's a geeky video-game designer sans paying contract. She's the high-strung editor of a Gastown glossy fashion mag about to go bust. Enter Bruce (Zahf Paroo) who's been brought on [after sleeping with the publisher] to stanch the red ink at Jen's mag. A prepper, he leads everyone into the woods where survival hi-jinks rule the week-end that includes newly-separated Abby (Lindsey Angell) who's working on pinot grigio therapy with a vengeance.

What the show brings to the stage : Jordan Hall's script plopped this viewer 1/2-way between Michele Riml's Into the Woods and Morris Panych's Gordon, both of which had popular runs in Vancouver in 2012. Hall brings a Millennial perspective on what existential angst means in BC's increasingly-hyperventilated and competitive culture. Her metier is comic banter that spits out its ironies and fears and anger, too, at a world so vastly worsened on so many fronts by us greedy hypocritical Boomers. We who once marched to Timothy Leary's siren call of Turn on! Tune in! Drop out! soon followed fellow-hypocrite Yippie Jerry Rubin into 3-piece suits and full-&-utter economic co-optation : job, house, kids, RRSPs, vacations, lakeside cabin, and now our latest rage, pickleball tourneys in Palm Springs.

Contempo dialogue drives the script : For the Millenials, it's New New Age angst: Jen touches up her mascara and tells Tim "We tend to all be progressives, but nobody pays attention to an ugly feminist." Later, she explains why now, spontaneously, she thinks she wants a baby : "Look, if everything keeps getting shittier and shittier and we wind up in the wilderness and we can't go to concerts and eat brunch...", to which Tim responds : "You mean you want something to rescue us from the relentless boredom of living?" Out in the woods Tim complains "Say what you will about the beauty of unspoiled nature but the choice of brunch cocktails sucks." 

All of this quite unlike Boomerville of yore, when we could afford a house but couldn't spring for a downtown Sunday brunch with benedicts & endless glasses of Mimosas if we had wanted to. When kids came along "as a matter of course", not as an escape plan from Yaletown and Whistler outings ad nauseam because a house and settling down became prohibitive options in the post-2008 fiscal meltdown that still infects their dreams. So easy to understand a view of why not piss away the week-end days and nites on clubs & drinks & ad hoc outdoor adventures in the social spineramas they can afford today

Production values of the show : Director Katrina Dunn propels Ms. Hall's rapid-fire repartee forward with gusto, and her cast is equal to the challenge. Albeit never having managed a soupçon of creative writing beyond the odd travel haiku, I did find the constant clever chatter among the characters in the first act a bit stretched and tiresome. Would there ever be anything but a smart-ass line to-&-fro, I wondered. So the believability as individuals and couples suffered somewhat as they became caricatures rather than characters to me. But by the second act I'd forgiven and forgot : I let myself fall into the sheer antic slapstick nonsense of the "survival camping" schtick that fight choreographer David Bloom orchestrated crisply and originally with max-laugh results. Pure unadulterated fun, so to speak.

Akin to poster maven Ursula Abresch's forest prints, David Roberts' abstract trees shadow downstage across the floor into mini-sets of condo, office and a wee tiny representation of David Hawksworth's Georgia Hotel restaurant bar. Loved the trees, but I found the spot-sets all somewhat tightly-spaced and thus cluttery to this eye at least on the diminutive Firehall stage. 

Effective lighting blackouts and chiaroscuros, costumes just right for each character.  

Acting pinspots : Strong performances by each and all. Nice complementary contrasts between the A-bitch Jen and her buddy the needy simple Abby. Same for funky struggler nerdy husband Tim whose persona was set -vs- the macho Tilly Endurables character Bruce. 

Who gonna like : This is rising-star comic fun from Jordan Hall (of earlier Kayak accomplishment) that Millennials, particularly, will relate to given the social, economic, existential, climate change \ social Darwinist leitmotifs of Ms. Hall's piece. The world they face in BC Metro is stupendously different than in 1971 when a third of an acre and a custom built albeit unfinished double-A-frame all-cedar house with 20-foot vaulted ceilings in White Rock cost our nascent family of four just $30,000. [Which counting for inflation would be only some $180,000 in 2016 equivalent dollars.]

Meanwhile for Jen and Tim to fret that they'll lose their 650 square foot rental condo when her magazine folds is a prospect hard for me to imagine given I paid but $375 for a 650-square-foot flat in Marpole in 1986. 

So kudos! to Jordan Hall for putting a lyrical & comic spin on issues that are at core dead serious (in 1st-world terms) to our children's and grandchildren's generations. Fun if agonizing reflections on the current version of What's it all about, Alfie? No question, Apocaplyse will engage & amuse & touch the heart too. 

Particulars :  Produced by Flying Start / Touchstone Theatre.  At Firehall Arts Centre (Cordova @ Gore, DTES).  From June 3-11.  Tickets Adults $24, Students \ Seniors $20. Schedules & reservations via tickets or by phoning Firehall Box Office @ 604.689.0926 during normal business hours.

Production crew :  Written by Jordan Hall. Directed by Katrina Dunn (Artistic Director, Touchstone Theatre). Set Designer David Roberts. Lighting Designer Adrian Muir.  Costume Designer Christopher David Gauthier. Sound Designer Elliot Vaughan.  Dramaturg Kathleen Flaherty.

Performers :  Lindsey Angell (Abby).  Sebastien Archibald (Tim).  Claire Hesselgrave (Jen).  Zahn Paroo (Bruce).



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