november 2017 | Volume 161
Satellite(s), Aaron Bushkowsky’s fascinating new play directed by Bill Dow for Solo Collective Theatre, looks at first like another take on Vancouver’s real estate crisis. Jan, the central character played by Jillian Fargey, initially seems a fictionalized version of Caroline Adderson, whose campaign to save Vancouver’s older homes from demolition, and her book about it, Vancouver Vanishes, are cited by Bushkowsky in his program notes.
Jan spends her days documenting the empty homes in her neighbourhood and arguing with City Hall bureaucrat Omar (Anousha Alamian) about Vancouver’s housing policies. He offers glib defenses of those policies and accuses her (not entirely without justification) of white privilege.
Meanwhile, Omar’s hapless realtor wife Sandy (excellent Meaghan Chenosky) sells a fine old house to a woman from China, Cherry (Sharon Crandall), who plans to demolish it. When Jan discovers Cherry’s 17-year-old son Li living alone there, all her assumptions about foreign buyers, tax cheats and satellite kids are reconfirmed. The audience, too, gets certain prejudices and suspicions reinforced when we see Cherry trying to bribe Omar at City Hall.
But Bushkowsky has other, bigger fish to fry. The political and economic issues of real estate are soon subsumed in existential concerns about loneliness, relationship and The Meaning of Life. Li is obsessed with astronomy, and the lens of his telescope becomes the play’s metaphorical prism. Life is lived locally, yes, but also, Bushkowsky suggests, sub specie aeternitatis.
A self-described “weird” Chinese kid, living alone and lonely in Vancouver, Li (the play’s best written character, superbly performed by Mason Temple) develops a bond with childless, lonely Jan, whose loveless marriage with cop Andy (Alex Zahara) is disintegrating. Obsessive, super-intense Jan (who else but Jillian Fargey would be cast in this role) even travels to China to learn what makes Li’s mother tick. There, Cherry gets to provide ample justification for her values and her desire to ensconce her only child in Vancouver.
As the existential speculation becomes more abstract, the play’s gender politics come into sharp focus with some extramarital hanky-panky that reveals the two men, Andy and Omar, to be complete assholes who end up with women they don’t deserve.
Maybe the point is that in the universal scheme of things there does exist, as Li is certain, extra-terrestrial intelligence. But that doesn’t mean we here on this privileged corner of earth are especially smart about our choices in politics, real estate or love.
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