May 2016 | Volume 143
Production photo by Tina Krueger
Ruby Slippers and Zee Zee Theatre have accomplished something of a coup in getting the rights to the Canadian premiere of Brad Fraser’s 5@50. Fraser was once about the hottest dramatist in the Canadian theatre with disturbing, darkly comic plays like Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love and Poor Superman about the intersections of gay and straight sexuality. Successes in the US and UK as well as in Canada, his plays helped redefine the Canadian dramatic character, proving that we could be as impolite and fucked up as Americans or Brits or anyone else.
In 5@50 Fraser gives us five women who drink, smoke pot and talk dirty. Friends since high school, they’re now all turning 50. The play opens with a very funny birthday party and typical Fraser outrageousness—throwaway references to Our Lady of Perpetual Sexual Abuse and a boyfriend who “put the cock in Caucasian.” But it quickly turns dark, increasingly ugly and melodramatic as the friendships become strained and the women reveal the underside of their superficially happy lives.
What a joy, though, to see five veteran Vancouver actresses do their thing at close quarters in Cameron Mackenzie’s very good production in the intimate PAL Studio. Deborah Williams is superb as the central character, Olivia, whose unacknowledged alcoholism sends her out of control and elicits an intervention from her friends with unintended consequences. It’s a performance that demands a lot of dramatic range, and Williams does angry and scary and sad as effectively here as she does her usual comic character stuff.
Beatrice Zeilinger, as Olivia’s partner Norma, has the toughest role, written as almost constantly uptight and angry, trying to cope with and makes sense of the woman she loves who is disintegrating before her eyes. Donna Yamamoto does lovely work as Fern, a mother and housewife with a secret life. Veena Sood is serially promiscuous journalist Tricia with health issues, and Diane Brown plays Lorena, whose boyfriend is hopeless and whose kids are strangers. Fraser gives each character short monologues, some revealing further miseries in their lives. But the ensemble work is what makes this show so watchable.
Marino Szijarto’s beautiful white-lace set provides an increasingly ironic backdrop to the darkening lives of female characters and friendships that manage, for the most part, to be pretty resilient in the end.
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