It’s no accident that one of David King’s plays is titled Local Colour. King has made a career of writing about eccentric characters in and around Vancouver and vicinity: Up Island, Harbour House, Life Skills. His newest, Cover, follows in their path with a detour into the surreal family play genre that Sam Shepard once made his specialty. Set in Vancouver’s east end, Cover presses a lot of local hot-buttons, including housing, race, drugs and crime. But its scenario and three characters are so contrived that it’s hard to know what the play might be saying about our lives at this time in this place.
Homeowner Owen (David Peterson) awakens in the middle of the night to find a stranger named Gavin (Kim Kondrashoff) blithely cooking a meal in his kitchen (nicely detailed by set designer John R. Taylor). Owen threatens to hit Gavin; Owen threatens to call the cops. But Gavin just keeps chopping tomatoes and blabbing until Owen accepts his presence, sits down to eat with him, and pours him many glasses of wine— even though this intruder, wielding a large kitchen knife, admits that he’s killed a man and spent five years in prison.
Owen and Gavin turn out to have much in common. They hung out in the same places, knew the same people, and wax nostalgic about Robsonstrasse and old Kitsilano. But now Gavin lives in the Downtown Eastside and Owen’s block has been bought up by South Asians. Gavin complains about the junkies, Owen about the “Punjabis.” Gavin wants to rent Owen’s basement suite but Owen has other ideas.
Things perk up with the entrance of Owen’s tenant. Nubile, unconventional Bonny has a coke-addicted mother, is recovering from a head injury, sings to the trees, and is having sex with Owen. As Bonny, Cherise Clark shows again why she’s one of Vancouver’s most dynamic young actresses. She lights up the stage in spurts but there’s not much even she can do about her clichéd sex-kitten routine with the old guys.
King’s writing isn’t sufficiently stylized or surreal to make us accept all the illogic, and Bill Devine’s Sea Theatre production doesn’t offer much help. Kondrashoff does a good job with the bulk of the dialogue but struggles with his character’s unmotivated emotional reversal at the end. Peterson has the toughest job trying to make Owen believable, and never does.
Still, it’s refreshing to see a play grappling with local issues rather than telling us about what happens in New York City, Washington, or northern England.