by James Long
Rumble Productions’ The Young & The Restless
showcases Theatre Replacement
Performance Works, Granville Island
April 21-30

At its best, James Long’s Broiler looks and sounds like a cross between a Daniel MacIvor solo show and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Like MacIvor, Long speaks directly to the audience, his casual narrative masking the desperate story underneath that comes leaking out in manic fits and psychotic starts. Like MacIvor and Marie Brassard, whose solo outings this also resembles (she visits the Cultch with her latest next month), he relies heavily on amplified, distorted sound and lighting effects. In one of the strongest elements of Broiler, Long assumes the role of a semi-catatonic mother, locked in her chair for years as a result of the mysterious, violent death of her young daughter.

Yet for all that, plus Long’s actorly charm and the slimy fascination of a raw chicken that serves as his onstage partner, Broiler never really cooks.

Long welcomes the theatre audience to his apartment for a kind of housewarming. He explains that he’s returned to this place after four years on the other side of the country. He’s going to prepare a meal for us, cook a chicken, and we watch him make the stuffing as he chats in that format familiar from popular TV cooking shows. His narrative is broken up by a voiceover describing strategies for running successful social functions, which Long accompanies with a host-at-the-party mime routine. All this is light, silly, and apropos of very little.

But what becomes clear in the spaces between, as Long throws back gin after gin, is that something is terribly amiss. Every so often he’ll shift into a scary voice for a couple of seconds, or sound will distort, or he’ll convulse when approaching a patch of carpet. And his pawing of the headless chicken starts to look increasingly symbolic--and creepy. What’s the real story?

It has something to do with the death of that little girl in this very room, and her grieving mother who sits upstairs. Was it suicide or murder? And what was our boy’s role in it all?

Long remains a better actor than writer. He has a loopy, relaxed quality that can shift quickly into psycho mode. He also moves well: his manic dance with the chicken is a highlight. But his performance lacks the physical rigour and precision that marks MacIvor and Brassard’s work. And the acting reflects the slackness in the script, for which director Craig Hall must also take some blame. Too much time is spent in empty chatter and a juvenile guessing game in the dark. At only 75 minutes, the show still seems long.

Noah Drew provides imaginative sound and excellent musical choices, and Itai Erdal’s lighting sharply defines the space and mood. But in the end, like Long’s last show, The Empty Orchestra, this feels more like an exercise--an appetizer--than the real meal deal.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Saturday, April 30, 2005 3:14 PM
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