ONCE

Arts Club Theatre Company, Granville Island Stage, until July 29th

Photo: Emily Cooper

My Two Pence

By Penny Warwick

 

It starts well. As you enter the theatre, all of the performers are already playing live music with an impressive gusto and there is a bar for audience members to sit in the ‘on stage’ pub. Once has won a string of accolades, including a Tony for Best Musical, so my expectations were high. Seeing the ensemble of actor-musicians milling on stage a little butterfly in my stomach whispered ‘Oh! Maybe it will be like Onegin!’*, but, spoiler, it wasn’t and I was disappointed, but not by the cast or the music (both outstanding for the most part). I didn’t like the story and on top of that I thought the writing already seemed dated considering it only premiered six years ago, with a few of the jokes and sexual references utterly confounding in a post-#metoo world.

 

This is a story about ‘Guy’ and ‘Girl’. The character of ‘Guy’ (Adrian Glynn McMorran) is a quintessential brooding, emotionally unintelligent man, whilst on the flipside ‘Girl’ (Gili Roskies) is a stereotypical dreamgirl, beautiful, always enthusiastic, and willing to drop everything at the bat of an eye for our hapless and completely manipulative ‘Guy’ (including a scene when her distraught friend arrives at a bar in tears, and Guy for no pressing reason immediately asks her to go for a walk under the stars, which she does, without even a word of condolence to her friend). I want to state in the strongest possible terms as I seemingly rip these characters apart that I do not want this to be interpreted as me necessarily faulting the actors in their roles. Despite her bad writing, Roskies is dynamite in this role. She lights up the stage at every moment and has a warmth that transcends her castmates. Although my favourite performances came from the duo of roommates Andrej (Scott Perrie) and Svec (Alexander Nicoll) each with comedic moments of brilliance, which added a welcome relief from the pseudo-romcom unfolding on stage which just plodded along limply.

 

Let me expand on my earlier objection about the sexual comments and jokes in the show. The first time we are introduced to Billy (the owner of a music shop, played by Chris Cochrane) he is apologizing to Girl for not being able to control himself around her having made ‘a pass at her’ the night before when drunk, she accepts his apology to then immediately have him make her feel visibly uncomfortable again by saying how attractive she is and that he can’t help it… Guy displays his own lack of situational awareness in a scene in his bedroom leading Girl to tell him firmly to “Fuck Off” before storming out of his house… but the most disgusting example of the misguided comedy (comedy? Is that what it was aiming for?) was in the second act when Girl’s roommate Reza (another female stereotype ‘The Seductress/Femme Fatale’ played by Marlene Ginader) is told that she must sleep with Billy so that they can have the band together to record an album. Because we all know that getting drunk is a great way to get yourself ready to engage with sex you don’t want to have, Girl says that she can have any drink she wants (hooray!), Reza orders a whiskey, quickly upping it to a ‘Double’. Before briefly dancing with Billy and then running off to do her bidding as the willing ‘slutty’ woman only to never be seen again until much later (because we don’t really care about the woman’s side of the story!), although we do hear about how amazing the sex was from a bragging Billy, adding to the vileness. Truly. I’m almost at a loss for words on that abjectly disgusting plot point.

 

Now some nice things, the actor-musicians across the board are very impressive. Their acapella song at sunrise in the second act is truly breathtaking. The directing, Bill Millerd’s final show as AD of Arts Club, is solid. The set and lighting (Ted Roberts) do a great job of transporting us to the different locations with the help of three screens.

 

I think in the end, this is a story about a heroine, which is cool. Girl shows up in Guy’s life and completely changes it for the better. That’s lovely! But it is the way that this impossible love story is threaded through which just seems heavy-handed and unnecessary and I simply was not sold as there is no chemistry between Roskies and McMorran. So in the end when they didn’t end up together it was neither surprising nor bittersweet, just an anticlimactic conclusion. The whole thing seems to come from a good starting point but just doesn’t make it anywhere, and veers horribly into distaste on too many occasions. Yeah, it wasn’t for me, but the sheer quality of the performers has to be applauded.

 

*I am starting to realise I will never ever love anything as much as I love Onegin.