Saturday, 21 April 2018

Me and You is a sisterly tale spanning seven decades 
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 : Two sisters. Seventy years. Twenty masques. Eighty minutes. That's what's at play in Melody Anderson's original script Me and You. Sisters Liz (Patti Allan) and Lou (Lois Anderson) are classics of family types. One's bookish, organized and orderly, a biologist who planned her marriage and children and her life as if straight out of a lab workbook. The other is an abstract painter, got preggers spontaneously at art school, leads a life of whimsy and creative flow describing her seemingly erratic footsteps through this world.

How it's all put together : Playwright Melody Anderson cut her theatre teeth making masques (the spelling I prefer). These are big numbers : more than 3,000 masques for 50 productions and counting. Her skills are part of theatre costuming college classes across North America. She's composing a book on it all to help apprentices learn her craft. Earlier this decade she turned her talents to playwriting as a way to extend her theatric reach.

The result now on show is a two-hander featuring elder sister Liz and four-year-younger sister Lou from elementary school days to their post-retirement final days.

The kids Liz and Lou hamming it up with their bulbous cheeks and cheekiness.
Photo credit : David Cooper
We watch them as chunks of years skip by starting in the 50's : mock atom bomb hide-under-your-desk drills; teaching each other to dance; Lou meets tampons for the first time; hair dyeing gone amuck; boyfriends; the moon landing; babies; rebellious teen kids; 9/11; Dad splits from Mom; history repeats itself on this front-- and so it goes as Vonnegut told us repeatedly it would.

Classic riffs with Liz the elder who of course must wag her finger and forever set younger sister straight. But Lou is no pushover, she can give as well as take : "I didn't 'traipse' through Europe," she protests, "I 'traveled'. I saw the Mona fukken Lisa!" True to form she names her out-of-wedlock love child Serenity. When after standing on her head Liz finally manages to get preggers by hubby Wayne, another biologist, theirs will be named Anne Agatha. "She'll hate you for life!" Lou warns her. Liz promptly flips back some Dr. Spock-isms at her.

Fresnels on the show production values : Once more the versatility of the 1st Avenue stage is realized. Bleacher seating faces an acting space some 40 feet across. Angled walls reach upstage : their panels feature a geometry of countless dozens of drawer handles.  But not attached to drawers alone : to a bed; to doors; to a biffy; to clothes wardrobes -- they also serve as climbing rungs for variety-blocking -- while boxes pop up from the stage floor and clothes betimes drop down from above.

Sister Liz heads off to college in the 60's while younger Lou, nudging toward hippiedom as an artist, both welcomes getting sis's room but knows she's also going to miss having her mentor / tormentor around, too.Photo credit : Daivd Cooper
The music soundscape is richly-wrought electro-pop whose tunes match the various epochs on view -- they change with each of the masques the sisters sport as they age. Engagingly, almost spookily, each new masque emerges out of backlit sepulchres that extend from both walls. Nice effect indeed !

Acting pin spots : Playwright / masquer Melody Anderson's script is excellently cast by Director Mindy Parfitt. As a boy who grew up with three older sisters -- and whose wife has a sister five years her senior who lives in our town -- I can vouch for the accuracy of the taunts & teases & zingers & put-downs & regrets & sweet-sweetnesses Patti Allan and Lois Anderson flip and flick back-&-forth across the years. 

Can also vouch for the deliberate silences, like Lou's bitterness after she nurse-maided Mom for years. Then of course Mom died before Liz managed to get herself back to the homestead for a final visit. The inevitable spat over who had rights to Mom's precious ruby-&-emerald ring. A contretemps about Mom's ashes that Lou kept in her artist's paint can closet. "Mom would have happily spent eternity in the garbage dump if it meant you and me got along," Lou scolds Liz when the silent freeze finally starts to thaw a number of years later.

Who gonna like : This is touching comic drama. Mindy Parfitt's blocking of this talented twosome is deft and sure. They angle in on every bit of the stage as their actions befit the various ages they're displaying. Their talk-over snipes when each projects selfishness on the part of the other are pricelessly precise. 

Single kids can learn, enjoyably, some of the dynamics that having the siblings they never did can bring about. As can brother-sister twosome families : the relationships girls in a family have are different than theirs, gotta be no question in that respect if my life experience is any measure. 

The prominent word in all of this, again, is "charm". Worthy looks, worthy emotions, a genuinely worthy wander out for an evening of expressive and touching live theatre.

Particulars :  Script by Melody Anderson. Produced by Arts Club Theatre.  At the BMO 1st Avenue Stage.  Run-time 1 hour, 20 minutes -no- intermission.  On until May 6, 2018.  Schedules and ticket information @ or by phoning 604.687.1644.

Production crew :  Melody Anderson, Playwright -&- Masque Maven.  Mindy Parfitt, Director.  Amir Ofek, Set Designer.  Barbara Clayden, Costume Designer. Conor Moore, Lighting Designer.  Owen Belton, Sound Designer.  Cande Anrade, Animation.  Angela Beaulieu, Stage Manager.  Koh McRadu, Apprentice Stage Manager.

Performers :  Patti Allan (Liz).  Lois Anderson (Lou). 

Addendum #1 :  Director's notes by Mindy Parfitt : [from the program]

I come from a big family, six kids altogether. Of my siblings, my sisters hold a special status. I have two : one nine years my senior and the other 10 years my junior. They shape who I am as much as who I am not, and there is a depth and complexity among us that undoubtedly makes me a better person.

All three of us call Vancouver home. In fact I even share a house with my older sister. But life is busy, so I look forward to our annual tradition : the three of us get together at our family's old cabin on Gambier, we drink G&T's on the porch, and play three-way racing-demons until our fingers bleed. It's heady stuff -- a direct link to childhood, and an important reminder that their love and loyalty allow me to get beyond myself.

Lest I mislead you, let me be clear : we are competitive and can be mean. We can agitate and annoy each other (and they hate that I always win at racing-demons). But ultimately, I love having an older sister I look up to and whose opinion matters, and I love being an older sister, being the one to extend a hand.

So, I dedicate this to my two incredible sisters. Without you, I would not be me. 

Thank you.

Addendum #2 : Playwright's notes by Melody Anderson : [from the program]

I remember, as a child, thinking that if I concentrated carefully enough while looking at myself in the mirror, I might be able to catch a specific moment when I changed and became older. I also remember staring (probably unnervingly) at my grandmother and struggling to make sense of the face that she was once an infant.

Perhaps it was this fascination with the aging process that drew me to mask-making. Throughout my career I've often mused about the idea of seeing a character age on stage over the course of an entire lifetime.

When I shifted my creative focus to writing, I decided to try my hand at exploring this idea. Since a sibling relationship spans a lifetime, I thought : why not write a series of vignettes about two sisters, each vignette a snapshot of their push-pull attempts at connection as they grow older together?

I se the early vignettes in the 1950's because I was interested in examining the cultural shifts that have happened during my own lifetime, especially with regard to attitudes toward women.

Aside from the historical/cultural backdrop and stylistic elements, though, I wanted Me and You to simply be a story about the relationship of two sisters -- a celebration of their ordinary and yet uniquely remarkable lives.

Addendum #3 : That I saw the show on the 2nd anniversary to-the-day of my own sister Anne's too-soon death a couple years after her retirement, no question that for me the coincidental timing made this afternoon just that much more poignant. 

Until her passing, Annie was BLR's most loyal & vigorous & vehement & immediate critic and editor (she a former text-editor for Ortho how-to-books.) I would post a review at 02:30, and when I dragged myself up at 10:00 later that morning, hers would be the first response on-line.

One time particularly I remember I had used the literary expression "bitch goddess". Lots of silence ensued from my feminist sibling -- she a year my senior -- at minimum a two-month vacuum after I stubbornly refused to change that reference. 

Annie, from one of your three younger brothers -- the one you grew up with, to you who most directly helped grow me up -- this review is dedicated with all the everlasting love and gratitude only you could possibly know.


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