THE VIEW FROM ABOVE
Performance Works, Granville Island
Shadbolt Centre, Burnaby
Playwright James Long and Ruby Slippers Theatre have given us a bracing antidote to the sunny Vanoc view of the 2010 Olympics. No cute cuddly mascots, no flag-waving, no we’ll-all-get-rich-from-it sentiment here. Forget “Free Tibet.” Housing prices are plummeting. The end of the world must be at hand. These folks are unlikely to be marching in the Opening Ceremonies.
The View from Above views us from a post-2010 perspective. The Games have been cancelled. The poor, homeless, drug addicted and other undesirables have been imprisoned in silos in North Vancouver during the pre-Olympic cleansing. Now they’ve escaped, roaming in gangs and stripping the landscape bare while soldiers enforce martial law. Oh, and it’s rained every day for three years straight. Houses have begun sliding down the slopes.
In one of those crumbling patchwork houses, vividly designed by Yvan Morissette, live Stuart (Tom McBeath) and Marsha (Karin Konoval). Vicious Stuart scavenges food, rails against “junkies and whores,” and constantly re-calculates real estate values. Simple-minded Christian Marsha soaks her rotting feet and blithely awaits the End of Days. Their prodigal son Roland (a marvelously twitchy Kyle Rideout) is back living in the basement after years in one of those silos from which Dad refused to bail him out. He’s joined by his angry girlfriend Trish (a powerful Donna Soares) and her infant child. Swaddled in rags, the baby cries continuously in the strangest, most disturbing effect in the play as Soares/Trish makes the eerily baby-like sounds.
If all this sounds grim, well, there’s worse. Vigilante murders. Cannibalism. But the predominant tone is grotesque comedy. A realtor offers a one percent bonus with the sale of your house for every scum-of-the-earth type you can round up and eliminate. Stuart eyes Trish’s baby: “It could cover a year’s property taxes!” Long has channeled the Beckett of Endgame as filtered through the early-1960s absurdism of plays like Edward Albee’s American Dream and Sam Shepard’s Curse of the Starving Class. The parable of social collapse is intentionally over the top. Witness the sit-down Sunday dinner over which Marsha happily presides while Stuart carves the, um, barbecue.
Neither Long’s script nor Diane Brown’s production entirely succeeds in integrating the serious and the ridiculous. But the acting is strong and the images memorable: a human arm reaching out from under the house, Marsha dancing grotesquely on her swollen feet to a Leonard Cohen song, Trish revealing what’s inside her infant’s swaddling.
If you miss this view of The Best Place on Earth, you can see it at Burnaby’s Shadbolt Centre from April 30-May 3.