OCTOBER 2023 | Volume 232
Photo credit: Moonrider productions
This summer and fall the Arts Club ran three consecutive boomer musicals. Beautiful: The Carole King Musical featured the pop music of the early Sixties and King’s own adult pop of the 1970s. Million Dollar Quartet, so successful it was held over, dramatized the late 1950s rock ‘n’ roll of Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis. Opening the fall season, Little Shop of Horrors was set circa 1960 with a female doo wop group providing the soundtrack.
Given the demographics of the Arts Club audience, this programming makes some sense. Nostalgia plays and pays. But to cultivate a younger audience, the company needs to offer material that speaks to their era, their experiences and tastes. Enter Christine Quintana with Someone Like You. Even the title underlines the bond this show offers the millennials that it’s about and at whom it is clearly aimed.
Called in the press release “a modern adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac set in Vancouver,” the play is a three-hander in which the Cyrano character is a thirty-something woman whose issue is not the size of her nose but the size of her body. Isabelle (Steffanie Davis), who addresses the audience directly and wants to star in her own story (which she definitely does), describes herself this way: “I am beautiful and I am fat.” She hates the way the world perceives her and treats her, and is full of love for many things, but not for herself.
Izy has been a good friend to Kristin (Jasmine Chen) since they met at UBC. Kristin runs her own East Van craft beer business but is in thrall to what Isabelle calls her SSB (stupid shitty boyfriend), who looms large in the play but whom we never meet. When Kristin decides to break off with him, Isabelle helps her find cute, sweet, good, brown Harjit (Praneet Akilla), who has problems of his own: he suffers from loneliness and depression. He is as attracted to Isabelle as he is to Kirstin. And Isabelle sure likes him. Can this threesome find happiness? Will their triangular relationship cause problems? No spoiler alerts necessary.
Director Jivesh Parasram gives the production a lively pop-concert feel, with sound designer Mishelle Cuttler generating song after song, none of which I recognized, but at which the millennial-heavy opening night audience regularly roared. Wladimiro Woyno Rodriguez’s lights are also very active, often providing smash-spots for Isabelle’s asides to the audience. The decision to stage the show in an alley configuration with audience on both sides seems arbitrary, though. We watch backs much of the time, and those of us with age-related hearing loss miss chunks of dialogue. It’s hard to see what advantages it provides.
Davis does an impressive job as Isabelle, carrying the narration and the majority of dialogue in this overly long play with its three false endings. She gives the character dynamic strength and avoids self-pity and whining in her monologues about her physical-psycho-emotional issues. Akilla makes Harjit lovable in a gentle, nerdy way without lapsing into any of the clichés that kind of character is heir to. Chen has the toughest job because Kirstin is more of a sketch than a fully fleshed-out character. She is whiney and needy and we just don’t get enough information to understand her abusive relationship. Chen gives a mannered performance at first, but by the end she finds additional dimensions in Kirstin that humanize her in attractive ways.Someone Like You is a feel-good show that deals sensitively and forthrightly with the issue of fatness that rarely, if ever, gets treated on stage, and it’s a showcase for theatrical diversity. The script is often witty and the production entertaining. But nearly two and a half hours feels excessive for a three-character play with really only a single plot line. It will be interesting to see what kind of appeal this show has for the Arts Club’s older subscription audience.
get in touch with vancouverplays:
Vancouver's arts and culture website providing theatre news, previews and reviews