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vancouverplays review


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—Bill Dow, Karin Konoval, Hiro Kanagawa, Andrew McNee. Photo: Amy Wright

By Aaron Bushkowsky
Solo Collective Theatre
Performance Works, Granville Island
Nov. 9-18
$25/$18/$15 at

One of the most acute experiences of parenthood for me was the shock of seeing my sweet, loving kids turn into monsters at about age 13, and to my great relief, seeing them re-emerge at about 19 as sweet, loving adults. It helped me realize what a rotten, obnoxious adolescent I had been—in my case for a decade or two—tormenting my excellent parents, whom I treated like pathetic losers. It’s something I regret to this day.

The positions are pretty much reversed in Vancouver playwright Aaron Bushkowsky’s new memory-fantasy comedy in its premiere by Solo Collective Theatre. The parents are the monsters, and the kids, in mid-life crisis, struggle to free themselves from their elders’ deathly grip. In its uneven way, lurching along like our hero’s zombie dad from one emotional state to another, Play with Monsters reveals a generously complicated vision of comic reconciliation and love.

This is the son’s story. Drew is a goofy, self-conscious only child, played by Andrew McNee as a kind of WASP Woody Allen. His parents are equally wacky. Sommelier dad (Bill Dow) devotes his life to serving and drinking wine. Mom (scenery-chewing Karin Konoval) is a floozy with her mink coat and constant cigarette. They love each other, embarrassing Drew with talk about their sex life, and they love their boy.

But when adolescent Drew starts getting into trouble, he strains both the parent-child bond and his parents’ marriage. Drew takes his father on a trip to the vineyards of France to try to heal their rift and meets Lily (the fantastic Josette Jorge), a young Asian woman with parental problems of her own. Her wealthy businessman father (Hiro Kanagawa) demands perfection from his only child, which she struggles to deliver. He appears onstage as a Ninja, complete with throwing stars and sword.

To this point I found the writing silly, the characters cartoonish and the performances unfunny. But the play suddenly kicks into high gear when the Ninja morphs into a psychiatrist treating severely depressed Drew and dating his mother. Drew’s fantasies become more theatrically vibrant as they become more nightmarish. When first his father and then his mother appear to him as zombies, his psychological entanglements with their memory take on rich new comic dimensions.

Director Rachel Peake choreographs some funny business: the Ninja and zombies doing battle; a zombie with rigor mortis struggling to drink a glass of wine. Paradoxically, though, the comedy emerges more fully from the realities of the characters’ feelings and relationships.

Jorge beautifully conveys Lily’s pain at not having met her father’s impossible expectations, and her revelation helps Drew understand his own anguish about disappointing his parents. Amid all Drew’s jokey self-commentary, what rings truest is a simple statement: “A son finds himself alone in the world after a difficult childhood. His parents continue to haunt him.”

An elegant production design frames Drew’s psychodrama: Shizuka Kai’s open stage with its black-and-white painted floor and transparent screens, and especially Itai Erdal’s dramatically shifting lighting. They help convey the play’s central theme, the recognition that both love and monstrosity are in the eye of the beholder.

Jerry Wasserman