Wednesday 7 November 2018

Red Birds tweets out a sweet-&-sour tale : a "sort-of-discovery" 
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 : You were adopted. You're turning 50. You hunt down your birth mom. Your 30-year-old wannabe actress daughter still lives at home, also your adoptive mom in the basement. Enter the only guy in the piece, birth mom's boyfriend. There's a catch : but to tell it would occasion a big plot spoiler. 

The peccadilloes of these five characters are the eager, embracing premise of Solo Collective artistic director Aaron Bushkowsky's Red Birds in a Western Gold production now on show at the PAL Studio through November 18.

Carol (France Perras) has turned the corner into her 6th decade of life. She not only meets her birth mother Hannah (Anna Hagan), but also Hannah's dubious boy-toy Derek (Gerry MacKay). She does her best in this sit-com of three generations of women to try to find a path through the thicket of circumstances at play here. 
Photo credit : Emily Cooper
How it's all put together : Bushkowsky relies on considerable coincidence to underscore both his humour and his stab at pathos in this script that is both post-Oedipal and post-Freud in its romp of characters. Carol (France Perras), her Mom named Red (Christina Jastrzembska) and daughter Ashley (Gili Roskies) are roommates because they're all, in Cohen's immortal term, "beautiful losers", at least economically.

Birth mother Hannah (Anna Hagan), meanwhile, grew up a money'd snot who did, however -- like three generations of her family's men -- become a successful lawyer. In her best mimic of Stephen Harper shaking 9-year-old son Ben's hand at the grammar school gate, she chimes "Nice to make your acquaintance..." to Carol when first meeting her. Later, asked to describe for Carol her birth father, all she can say is "An asshole, a dead asshole." 

For his part Derek (Gerry MacKay) at least has a soupçon of insight into his own soul when he admits "You can trust me despite how obviously shallow I am." Or, later, "I am not what I appear, but at least I'm honest, sort of...". From such you can pretty well plumb the dialogue's depth.

Production values that enhance the script : What Mr. Bushkowsky may lack in plot or character-depth Director Scott Bellis overcomes deftly through his cast selection. To a person an excellent match-up of actor's skills with each of the characters' foibles and idiosyncrasies.

It was Polish Mom Red who with her drunk hubby Igor adopted and raised Carol. She cluck-clucks at her 30-year-old granddaughter Ashley because Ashley has just announced she's targeting an in vitro implant. Wants to take her mind off her failed-to-launch acting career, don't you know. While Mom Carol freaks and shrieks, Red says : "If you want to be a lesbian be the best lesbian you can be!" -- her thick Polish accent just right. Or, when Carol whines about not knowing who she is or where she's going in life, sez Red : "Do not believe everything you think : what good would it do?"

A typical WGT thrift shoppe set with costumes to match fronts on to a minimalist ersatz bird sanctuary downstage : no question the set in the show works considerably better than Mr. Bellis's blocking of scenes there. (Blocking. A bad word for the activity of drama. To block in football is to hold rigid against another's movement. A block in the garden is a heavy concrete brick designed to just sitz and do nothingz. Enough said about the bird sanctuary scenes.)

Acting pin-spots :  To this eye, the mom-daughter tag-team of France Perras / Gili Roskies had both the best lines and the most convincing relationship. Particularly when daughter Ashley becomes her mom's moral compass as Act II plays out. Of the two, both dipsomaniacs addicted to cheap box wine, Roskies had some punchy dialogue : "Wine helps me to drink, except sometimes weird things come out of my mouth...when I drink I get crispy." She's crispy a lot.

Mom Carol (France Perras) and 30-year-old daughter Ashley (Gili Roskies) have an alcohol jones they share as each tries to figure out what the future holds for them. 
Photo credit : Javier Sotres
As Hannah, Anna Hagan's dialogue was as if lifted directly by the playwright from the lawyer Glen Close in the t.v. show "Damages" : snippy, direct, analytical. "Carol, tell me something about yourself, tell me about your deficiencies," she says at the first of their reunions. Or her best line, about a recent Europe vacation : "I didn't laugh once on that whole trip and I was hoping to." Every time I re-read that it just kills me.

No question Mr. Bushkowsky had the most fun, however, with the character Derek, a cocktail lounge waiter who declares "I'm not full of myself, I'm just confident and good looking." Polish Mom Red loves him : "I prefer the rascal to the decent man!" she chirps.

Who gonna like : While a clever shot at sit-com style one-liners and whack-a-mole interpersonal scenarios, still and all it is another script whose "sum of parts is greater than the whole". But in this case that is more praise than criticism. Again, it is the casting -- and each cast member's role interpretation -- that is the wind beneath the wings that lifts Red Birds above its somewhat contrived plot-line. The characters' bruised personalities, as they evolve, overcome the show's numerous uber-coincidences.

Viewers are not going to gain much insight about "the human condition" or witness any true existential growth here, but many chuckles to be had watching this flock of losers take flight.

Particulars : Produced by Western Gold Theatre in collaboration with Solo Collective Theatre.  At PAL Theatre, 581 Cardero Street.  Through November 18, 2018. Tickets via WGT website -or- through the ticket agency on-line Brown Paper Tickets or by phone to box office @ 604.363.5734.

Production team :  Director Scott Bellis. Producer Glenn MacDonald.  Artistic Producer Christine Reinfort.  Stage Manager Rebecca Mulvihill.  Assistant Stage Manager Emily Doreen Wilson.  Lighting Designer John Webber.  Costume & Props Designer Alaia Hamer.  Set Designer Stephanie Wong.  Wound Designer Ben Elliott.  Dramaturge Lauren Taylor. Web/IT/Print Joseph Emms.  Photography Emily Cooper.  Graphic Design Sean Anthony.  Production photos Javier Sotres.  

Performers :  Anna Hagan (Hannah).  Christina Jastrzembska (Red).  Gerry MacKay (Derek).  France Perras (Carol).  Gili Roskies (Ashley). 

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