— L-R: Adam Lolacher (Charlie) & Jason Clift (Simon). Photo credit: Emily Cooper
Sean Minogue’s new play has one of the best titles of the season and its subject couldn’t be more timely: twenty-somethings in Vancouver struggling to figure out what they’re going to do, who they’re going to be, and where they’re going to live. Trouble is the playwright and director/dramaturge Sabrina Evertt can’t decide whose play it is and whether they want it to be comedy of manners, drama, or the broadest kind of TV sitcom.
Aptly named Twenty Something Theatre takes dead aim at the existential and financial issues facing their generation in a soft economy and overpriced real estate market. Charlie (Adam Lolacher) and Rachel (Julie McIsaac) are an aspiring couple. He works as a barista but aspires to have his own business and be his own boss. She’s trying to get out from under the influence of her wealthy, controlling parents and buy her own condo with Charlie. There are distant echoes of A Raisin in the Sun, especially when a cheque appears that Charlie might use to finance his business venture.
Things get complicated when Rachel’s movie-obsessed brother Simon (Jason Clift) and Charlie’s co-worker Erin (Genevieve Fleming) become involved with Charlie’s latest venture and each other. Simon first appears to have mental problems but turns out to be a complex and interesting character. Erin, disappointingly, becomes less fully dimensional, basically a device for advancing the plot, and Fleming can’t find many notes to play.
In fact, Us & Everything consistently foregrounds the men at the expense of the women. Rachel spends a lot of time whining about her situation, scolding Charlie, and going offstage to view her dream condo or meet with her out-character parents while Charlie’s story develops onstage. It’s difficult to sympathize with her, even when Minogue reveals Charlie to be even more unrealistic and inept than Rachel accuses him of being. You wonder why they’re together at all—she’s so condescending to him and he’s so insensitive to her condomania. Ironically, McIsaac seems to find her character’s heart in an excellent scene with her brother, one that tells us more about Simon than about Rachel.
For a while Charlie seems like the only real person in the play, and Lolacher grounds the character very nicely. He desperately wants to make something of himself, prove that his working class roots and lack of formal education mean less than his intelligence, desire, and entrepreneurial spirit. But Minogue makes another out-character—Charlie’s cabdriver dad—a fulcrum of the plot and of Charlie’s emotional arc, leaving Lolacher to deliver his most powerful dramatic speech in a one-way conversation through a cell phone.
The play’s stylistic difficulties coalesce around Simon. All that’s missing from his first scene is a laugh-track. His character is written and played so broadly there that I thought he might be brain-damaged. He reverts to that space-cadet movie-nerd stereotype from time to time later. But in between, his struggle to please his parents, figure out his life, and find some measure of adulthood emerges as the most compelling through line in the play. His argument with Rachel has real sparks and shows the genuine hurt that comes with arrested development. His involvement with Erin and Charlie elicits some of Minogue’s best plot twists. Clift has a strange, goofy slacker quality that works well for Simon, he’s funny in a strange way, and mostly manages to navigate the radical generic shifts his character undergoes.
Craig Alfredson’s set is versatile enough to transform clearly and easily from Charlie and Rachel’s apartment to a cafe to a restaurant, but Minogue unnecessarily sets one scene in the wealthy parents’ house, which doesn’t read at all.
I really wanted to like this play, and despite my reservations I was never bored during its 90 minutes without intermission. I’d like to see it again after a substantial revision.