Saturday 18 November 2017

Satellite(s) spins a tale of YVR houses -vs- homes
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 : How to put a human face on Vancouver's housing crisis. That is the challenge facing the Solo Collective theatre troupe in this Aaron Bushkowsky script. It's based on novelist Caroline Adderson's 2015 photo essay Vancouver Vanishes. Adderson's book for its part mimes artist/activist Michael Kluckner's earlier photo and water colour montage from 1990, Vanishing Vancouver

"When in danger, when in doubt / Run in circles, scream & shout!" seems to be the best most wannabe buyers can do to buy into the Vancouver housing scene. Fact is the income-to-purchase-price ratio for a detached house in Greater Vancouver can often run as high as 18:1. Go figure how actors or hospital aides or cab drivers can live here.
Photo credit : Emily Cooper
Start with a plot conceit that involves an activist writer recovering from a bike accident concussion who spearheads a campaign to stop off-shore property purchases. Add a lonely Chinese "satellite kid" plumped down by his tiger mom to live by himself in a 6,000 square foot west side heritage-y home. 

The kid's mom is a Beijing realtor who sells Vancouver houses to buyers from her home town who want to park their riches in greeny Vancouver, not smog-struck China. She flaunts red lipstick and matching shoes that are fetching to a certain 12th-&-Cambie planning officer. There's a Faye Leung / Bill VanderZalm lookalike moment with a plain envelope that speaks volumes. So in all of this why not also throw in a cop -plus- a leather-pants'd married Shaughnessy realtor he has the hots for, just for hellry?  Oh. Yes. Cop is also married -- to the writer lady, silly...

Sidebar : Fact is the true villains in our housing mess are generally not individual people per se, but public policy, zoning by-law compromises, wrong-minded build-out-&-floor area ratios. Then there are our homegrown provincial and national tax laws designed by the movers and shakers from Downtown. Not to mention a widespread myth that urban land possesses, inherently, what developers like to call its "highest and best use" -- a fraught expression that seduces most simple-minded politicians. There goes the neighbourhood lit.-&-fig. 

But Satellite(s) isn't about dry statistics or bankrupt policies, it's about what happens to the human faces behind them.
What the show brings to the stage :  The show brings this : six talented actors. A set by Yvan Morissette and lighting by Gerald King that are catchy and smart. Some good, inventive blocking of his cast by Director Bill Dow. Artful sound design by Malcolm Dow (yes, pere et fils). Together this admixture of skill and ingenuity acts out a script that put me to mind of the Herman Hesse anomie poem I memorized 50 years back at college in Germany called Im Nebel. A rough English translation would parse it thus : Alone we walk in the fog / Everyone is single / Nobody knows anyone else / Everybody's lonely.  

Scriptique : Driving home (alone, in a creepy fog), I wondered how audiences then or now would react to Hamlet were he to say "Feck, I don't know whether to kill myself or not..." instead of "To be or not to be / That is the question."

With due respect to creative talent -- vs. my being a secondary observer, a re-actor instead of an actor -- the Bushkowsky script is predicated on stereotype, coincidence (see Footlights above), and caricature. Thus it comes off like a riff -- a verbal shadowbox of the photo / painting coffee table books by Mr. Kluckner and Ms. Adderson. And to be not just didactic but outright preachy hurts the overall dramatic effect being sought. No question that all of these folks' themes are 100% spot-on and accurate -- as I think they are -- that, however, is another matter altogether. Viewers want to infer from the actors' anguish how Im Nebel they are, not be told so over and over.

Acting pin-spots : Not often I see a Vancouver-borne stage play where over 80% of the cast are Equity actors. So there is talent galore on the Performance Works stage, no question. Of the six characters I believe honourable mention is due to two especially : as the faux Caroline Adderson character Jan, Jillian Fargey brings to life a persona that is the most richly developed and best-blocked overall. Her endless circling of the centre stage box riser in Act 2 was a very touching signal of her save-the-city obsession starting to unhinge her (along with her injury and 14-year marriage collapsing). Her follow-up Grey Goose vodka slurry was truly choice stuff indeed. 

"Satellite kid" Li from Beijing (Mason Temple) is neighbour to concussed writer Jan (Jillian Fargey) who befriends and mothers him in the 6,000 foot Point Grey home his tiger mom bought where he lives alone with no furniture, no friends, pizza, Red Bull & a bong of hashish.
Photo credit : Emily Cooper
Meanwhile on that box she circled crazily was the second most-believable character in the play, the satellite kid Li played by Studio 58 Class of 2017 grad Mason Temple in -- quote the program -- "his first production outside the famous basement-and-pillar" put on the map by the late Antony Holland. Bravo! entrance to the Vancouver professional theatre community for Mr. Temple. A vigorous and spunky future before him I am quite certain awaits. 

Each of Alex Zahara (Andy, the cop), Meaghan Chenosky (Sandy, the hottie realtor), Anousha Alamian (Omar, the sleazy planning department stud) and Sharon Crandall (Cherry, the Beijing tiger mom with the lovely mezzo singing voice) were value-add's to the performance without a doubt. But they could not transcend how their scripted roles were laid out, regrettably.

Who gonna like : As noted above I have every admiration for people who -- whether playwright or poet or fiction writer -- take a blank slate and create images and incidents and individuals who stick in our heads : the verbal and visual equivalent to a musical "ear worm".  

But have to say Satellite(s) -- even the parentheses around the final 's' strike one as pedantic : "we are all unfulfilled and grasping entities circling about one another" -- was not at core a compelling dramatic experience for me. 

Still, this is just one voice from a top row cheap seat. There is acting and technical quality on display in this piece for sure. I have no doubt the talented names alone in this production will draw many more appreciative fans of this ever-popular theatre troupe to their remaining performances. 

ParticularsWritten and produced by Aaron Bushkowsky, Artistic Dicrector, Solo Collective Theatre.  On at Performance Works, Granville Island, until November 26. Tickets and schedules via or at 604.788.2418Run-time 120 minutes including 15 minute intermission.

Production crew : Director Bill Dow. Set Designer Yvan Morissette.  Lighting Designer Gerald King.  Costume & Makeup Designer Cheyenne Mabberley.  Sound Designer Malcolm Dow.  Stage Manager Melissa McCowell.  Graphic Designer Sean Anthony.  ASM, Props & Ass't to Lighting Designer Theo Bell.  Resident Artistic Producer Cristine Reinfort.  Promotions / PR Cunnamon Schreinert.  Photography Emily Cooper

Performers :  Anousha Alamian (Omar).  Meaghan Chenosky (Sandy).  Sharon Crandall (Cherry).  Jillian Fargey (Jill). Mason Temple (Li).  Alex Zahara (Andy).  


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