My Two Pence
Solo Collective Theatre, Performance Works, until November 26th, 2017
By Liz Gloucester
Since 2004, more than 10,000 demolition permits have been issued for residential buildings in the City of Vancouver. An average of three houses a day are torn down […] and their demolition is not only an architectural loss […] a whole history goes with them […] repositories of our narrative.
From the Director’s notes quoting Caroline Adderson, author of ‘Vancouver Vanishes'.
We assume too much and our prejudices and passions often cloud our judgement. Having read the above statement my conservative soul (not in a political sense I can assure you) cries out for justice, for censure, for an end to this madness. I tut loudly when I see the scores of boarded up houses waiting in line along King Ed for their inevitable annihilation. But do I have a right to be so incensed?
Playwright Aaron Bushkowsky introduces six intersecting stories of Vancouverites with opinions or links to this very subject. We have the realtor, her City Hall husband, a Chinese buyer, her teenage son, and their campaigning neighbours. A series of duologues ensue, every character interacting with each other at some point during the narrative. Bonds are made, voices are heard, silence is noted. The writing is very truthful and funny and the story beautifully directed and performed. I have barely anything critical to say about this piece. The one niggling thing for me is a plot point. Jan (played by Jillian Fargey) is an activist author and amateur housebreaker, neighbour to the ‘Monster House’ and is suffering from a head injury. This injury is used a few times during the piece as an excuse for her strong opinions and discrimination towards wealthy home owners. Of course this is a legitimate human condition; however, I feel it to be an unnecessary boosting of Jan’s morality. There are plenty of decent people in the world with prejudice and she needs no excuse for her behaviour; she exists in every non-branded coffee shop sans concussion.
In spite of this one complaint I was delighted at how fleshed out and rich the female characters are in Bushkowsky’s writing. Strength and vulnerability are abundant in Sharon Crandall’s portrayal of ‘Monster or Mother?’ Cherry. She exudes wit and fieriness skillfully juxtaposed with moments of immense poignancy. The play is at its most powerful in a scene between Crandall and Fargey where the latter, after befriending Cherry’s son, journeys to China to confront her. Mason Temple draws a very nuanced and rich arc to his character Li. This star-gazing ‘Satellite’ child has been dropped into the unfurnished 5.2 million property purchased by his mother as she believes it the best scheme to ensure his future successes. His love for astronomy is forgotten and replaced with pizza, hash and driving his new Jeep into the wall. I felt a very strong connection to Temple’s vulnerability, being a first gen immigrant myself it’s heartbreaking to view his loneliness and frustration at having left his country, his culture and a good friend behind.
For me, the initial housing crisis subject is drowned by the overwhelming cry for human connection in this piece. The play opens in darkness, the actors appearing one by one, faces illuminated by their phones- their Satellite connection. They hum and they sing, we hear the familiar beeps, buzzes and vibrations. Face to face contact is dying out in this world and I see far more folks pinned to their screens than wrecking notices pinned to doors. As the curtain falls (metaphorically speaking) the phones are away; the people are paired together. The message is clear.
Where I am not so clear is what Bushkowsky intends us to leave within reference to the housing crisis, if anything. By sitting with these characters for just over an hour my own preconceptions became a lot less clear and the issue at hand murkier than it had previously been. And I think that is an excellent use of theatre; to quash our inner judgemental selves and widen our mind to other insights.