october 2018 | Volume 172
by John Muggleton
Sidekick Players Club
Tsawwassen Arts Centre
http://sidekickplayers.wixsite.com/sidekick-players or 604-288-2415
John Muggleton’s Burn isn’t exactly a whodunnit – more a who done what? It’s pretty classic in dramatic structure: a group of people gathered in a room give us lots of exposition to set up the scenario. Then an outsider enters, the catalyst who stirs the pot and provides the information and explanations that lead to the unexpected ending.
It’s a talky play. The key events of the plot occur in the past, offstage, so we hear about people and things rather than see them in action. And there’s a good deal of artifice in the convention that allows the outsider to come in and stay long past the point in real life when they’d be thrown out, or worse. As well, some of the attempted interventions by secondary characters (“Wait!” “This has gone too far!” “We have to phone the police!”) are awkwardly rhetorical rather than credibly dramatic.
That said, Burn is an entertaining and often compelling puzzle, and Patrick Truelove’s Sidekick Players production, built around a commanding central performance, gives full value to the play’s cleverness and intricacy. We really want to find out who did what to whom.
We’re in the living room of Robert (Mark East), once a writer himself but now living off the legacy of his famous wife, Tara, an author of horror stories who mysteriously disappeared five years earlier. His old friends David (Jeff Pannell), a publisher, and Samira (Marci Chimich), a lawyer, are in attendance. Another writer friend, Paul, has just died. These three, Paul and Tara were inseparable. They spent much time playing story-building games and pranking one another.
Enter Paul’s daughter Eve (Emma Young), whom the three friends think/hope might be Paul’s executor. Turns out the mysterious Eve has brought much more than Paul’s will. She takes control of the room and spins out a long, surprising story that has everyone back on their heels and … well, to reveal anything more would be to ruin the surprises.
Young is terrific as Eve: arrogant, annoying, smirking, gaming the others as she carefully builds her story, detail upon telling detail. It’s an authoritative performance: no hesitation, no hiccups. She completely controls the tempo and the narrative while setting everyone up for the reveals.
Eve duels primarily with Robert, and East is very good, too, though vocally a little big at times for the small Tsawwassen Arts Centre space. David and Samira are essentially onlookers. Pannell’s David gets a few nice laughs and Chimich’s Samira is very grounded, very contained. She takes control at the end but I wish Muggleton had given her better dialogue throughout.
Truelove keeps things moving, even through the long first act exposition. He might have found a little more variety in the staging than the repeated device of characters crossing to the bar for drinks—a mainstay of blocking for the British drawing room comedy/drama of which this genre is an offshoot.
The key, though, is that the acting and direction allow the twists and turns of the plot to come through clearly. To understand and appreciate the ending, we need to be able to follow along the circuitous garden path down which the playwright takes us. And that we do, to the bitter, poetically just end.
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