THE LEISURE SOCIETY
by François Archambault
trans. Bobby Theodore
Ruby Slippers Theatre
March 25-April 9
$24 / $20
Ever since the birth of modern drama with the realist plays of Ibsen and Chekhov, playwrights have used the stage to peek through the curtains of the family home and observe, behind the façade of middle-class normalcy, how many of us live, in the words of Thoreau, lives of quiet desperation.
Classics of the genre include Death of a Salesman, Albee’s vicious tragicomedy Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and in Canada, Tremblay’s Les Belles-Soeurs, which revealed unpalatable truths about the lives of Quebecois women in the 1960s.
Now from Quebec, Francois Archambault’s The Leisure Society gives us a lacerating x-ray of yuppie life in our own time. In Bobby Theodore’s excellent colloquial translation, Diane Brown’s near-perfect Ruby Slippers Theatre production alternates uproariously funny and gaspingly horrifying moments as it excavates the dark, desperate lives of a couple who seem to have it all.
Yvan Morissette’s starkly handsome Yaletown apartment set suggests both affluence and sterility. The affluence of Peter (Scott Bellis) and Mary (Colleen Wheeler) is illusory but their sterility is real. Both qualities are captured in an exchange where Peter warns Mary not to miss a morning of work to have an abortion since their lifestyle is so dependent on their two incomes.
When we first meet them they seem slightly cartoonish, describing how they’re adopting a little Chinese girl to join their baby boy. But Mary’s forced laugh and Peter’s nervous tics gradually become windows into the bleak reality of their marriage. The look on Mary’s face as they have quickie sex before the arrival of their guests tells us volumes about their relationship. The constant crying of the baby over a monitor provides the soundtrack to their family life.
Like in Albee’s play, the other couple’s presence strips away the illusions the characters hide behind. Old friend Mark (Robert Moloney), divorced and living the singles fantasy life, brings along sexy young Paula (Hazel Venzon). The long boozy evening ends in a sexual three-way and a series of awful revelations of how Peter and Mary really feel about their lives. Although we laugh a lot, it’s very hard to watch.
The acting couldn’t be better. Colleen Wheeler, maybe Vancouver’s best actress right now, delivers another extraordinary performance. Her Mary is devastated and devastating, from her hilarious drunken dance, to a shattering monologue about how she has everything and nothing, to her primal scream when she realizes that Peter isn’t capable of ending their misery. Bellis conveys Peter’s humiliating ineptness with absolute clarity and conviction. Moloney’s Mark is perfectly creepy and, as young Paula, amazed at these middle-aged fogeys, newcomer Venzon holds her own beautifully.
It’s hard to imagine a more downbeat ending or a more satisfying version of this glance into the darkness next door. Not for the faint-hearted, The Leisure Society is horrifyingly good.