Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Mustard is fantasy fun where teen angst & family crash 
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 :  This Mustard isn't hot dog goop. Even better. He's a he — the lifelong phantasy friend of an angry messed-up 16-year-old desperate to grow up named Thai. Mustard lives under her bed. When she's not threatening to punch real people in the face or bite their noses, Thai talks to Mustard for counsel and he yaps back. 

Goofy? Maybe. But who hasn't had the odd imaginary friend? The fun in indie theatre whizkid Kat Sandler's script is that Thai's mom Sadie soon starts to see him, too. Maybe it's the booze and pills she pounds back trying to get over her depression at being ditched a year back by Thai's dad. At first she's half unglued by Mustard, then a bit bewitched and finally slightly smitten.

Mustard (Andrew McNee) tries to help out teenager Thai (Heidi Damayo) navigate the turbulent waters of teen-agerdom now that Dad has abandoned the family, mom's become a booze-&-pills binger, and there's a college frat-boy noodling his way into her life. 
Photo credit : Mark Halliday

Coming-of-age whimsy meets fractured family gestalt meets metaphysics : as Sandler put it's Lauren Gillett 30 months back, "When ideas that make up our childhood memories go away, where do they go, and are they gone forever? What would happen if they started appearing to other people? What would happen if they didn't want to go away?" 

Known as spectacular fiction, Sandler's genre wanders into supernatural and epistemlogical realms where serendipity goes random and rogue. Are phantasy friends fake news or perhaps altogether more? How to factor in Mustard's "boon-goons" — fellow wizards  who are out to muscle him away from Mother Earth back to their nether world known as "boon swallows". But then there's also Thai's flesh-&-blood college boy-toy Jay with the usual boy-toy urgings. Lots of dramatic tension in all this mix for sure.

The two "boon-goons" trying to muscle Mustard back to their netherworld enclave, Leslie (Shekhar Paleja) and Bug (Brett Harris) conjure CIA-like tortures to snag their quarry.
Photo credit : Mark Halliday
Production hi-lites and acting pin-spots :  This show is ACT Artistic Director Ashlie Corcoran's third go at Sandler's script. She first directed it in 2016 for Toronto's Tarragon Theatre, then mounted a re-do there in January of 2018. (The original production won Toronto theatre's Dora Award for Outstanding New Play.) This time she doesn't direct it but is its sponsor as ACT Artistic Director. Stephen Drover, ACT's Associate AD directs this 2nd-only Canada production. In announcing it for ACT, Corcoran termed Sandler's schtick as "irreverent, exciting, dark, funny, weird and full of heart". 

On the production side of the ledger, Kevin McAllister's richly appointed townhouse digs were perfectly drafted, balanced, and sustaining throughout for some standout actors in their roles.  

Without an iota of hesitation, I say Andrew McNee's Mustard is the most compleat and nuanced and penetrating comic piece I have witnessed on Vancouver stages in BLR's 6 1/2 year run. Take your pick : Mustard the phantasy god is Jungian dream individuation or a modern Grimm fairy tale or just existential angst run riot or all of the above. 

Regardless, his turns with Thai (Heidi Damayo)  popping out from under her bed like a manic dust bunny harlequin  were choice. And his impish sexy turns with Mom Sadie (Jenny Wasko-Paterson) as the plot thickens were a mix of anxiety, pain, wonder and giggles. 

A hearty Welcome! to Ms. Damayo in this her debut ACT role after an award-studded baccalaureate career at UBC. One needn't have been a dad of two teen daughters 25 years apart to appreciate her impetuosity and disquiet and violent outbursts, but it helps.

Fact is Dad may be gone, but so is Mom. Not just from the often-predictable tensions that come with the mother \ daughter teen turf, but also because Mom is adrift in her Rx's and XXX fogs and a general self-pitying jag that Wasko-Paterson hones sharply.

No question, to this eye Sandler's "evil twins" Leslie and Bug may not have been 100% necessary in the plot. Structurally, the phantom Mustard's disappearance at play's end  the death of Thai's invisible friend  could have been managed dramatically on its own self-obvious terms. That said, Brett Harris's Bug was a delicious bit of steam punk idiosyncracy.

Who gonna like : Ashlie Corcoran nailed it: "irreverent, exciting, dark, funny, weird and full of heart".

Growing up has its real moments of joy and nightmare. Whether one is a teen or a 40-something facing divorce. Youngsters may have invisible friends, and hurting adults may hug their pillows for ersatz comfort and companionship. 

For 90 minutes of exhausting exhilaration watching the three main characters sort out what is "real" between them is jollity and zest with delicious twinges of sentiment, too. 

This is a wholly embracing and unique night out, a witty and touching "our town" turn like none you've ever had the pleasure to witness before.

Particulars : Co-produced by the Arts Club Theatre -and- Belfry Theatre, Victoria. On at ACT's Granville Island stage. Runs until October 20, 2018. Tickets & schedule information by phone at 604.687.1644 or Show-time 90 minutes, no intermission.

Production teamDirector Stephen Drover.  Set Designer Kevin McAllister.  Costume Designer Carmen Alatorre.  Sound Designer Brian Linds.  Lighting Designer Alan Brodie.  Assistant Lighting Designer Ranleigh Starling.  Stage Manager Jan Hodgson. Assistant Stage Manager Yvonne Yip. 

Performers :  Heidi Damayo (Thai). Brett Harris (Bug). Andrew McNee (Mustard).  Chirag Naik (Jay).  Shekhar Paleja (Leslie).  Jenny Wasko-Paterson (Sadie).


No comments:

Post a Comment