by Morris Panych
Arts Club, Granville Island
February 17 - March 12
$27.50 - 35.50

You know you’re famous when you enter the pantheon of one-namers. Morris Panych has cracked that barrier, at least locally. Like Cher or Shaq, he’s just Morris, easily our most successful all-around theatre artist.

Always an edgy actor—though he doesn’t act much anymore—he’s now increasingly in demand as a director, here and in Ontario, of plays and opera. But playwriting has put Morris on the world stage. His best works, 7 Stories, Vigil and The Overcoat, are dark comic fables, theatrically innovative stories of little men at the end of their ropes, contemplating the meaning of life. The Dishwashers shares some of those qualities. But this newest play is not the one Morris will be remembered for.

We’re in the grungy basement of an upscale restaurant, the lair of the dishwashers, rendered in lovingly greasy detail by designer Ken MacDonald, complete with working sink and realistically crusty dishes. I swear I could smell them. Dressler (Stephen E. Miller), emperor of this domain, and Moss (Shawn Macdonald), an old smoker gasping his last breaths, have been there forever. Emmett (Ted Cole), the new guy, has been hired to replace the dying Moss. Having made and lost a fortune, Emmett bitterly laments being reduced to what he sees as the crappiest of all jobs.

The central question is whether dishwashing is pointless, demeaning work, a last resort to be escaped as quickly as possible. Or whether, as Dressler argues, it has a noble purpose as the foundation of the elegant world upstairs: “Pubic hair in the lobster bisque is just the sort of thing we want to avoid.” More important, Dressler insists, it has its own intrinsic value. Embrace it as he has and it can make life meaningful.

This debate is interesting as far as it goes, but mostly it goes around in circles. Played with comic gusto, Stevie Miller’s Dressler preaches a gospel of low expectations, and with an eye on Moss, invites existential resignation: “Work, that’s all there is. Work, death, the rest is a detour.” Emmett attempts half-heartedly to buy in, even organizing a pathetic union drive, but gets out as soon as he can. Though Ted Cole’s relentlessly sarcastic performance makes Emmett hard to like, isn’t he right? Doesn’t the job suck? Maybe, but the same arguments are made over and over without any real plot attached.

Departing from his usual style, Morris as both writer and director grounds these characters in the banality of realism. In The Overcoat, a group of men at sewing machines brilliantly mime their work in chorus to the roar of classical music. Here men literally haul real, clattering dishes in racks. 7 Stories ends with a moment of theatrical magic when a man leaps from a building and flies. There’s no magic here and no leaps. The Dishwashers never flies.

Jerry Wasserman


last updated: Friday, February 25, 2005 4:20 PM
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