by Elaine Avila
Cor Departure Theatre Ensemble
and Evergreen Cultural Centre
December 1 – 12 at Performance Works, Granville Island

There’s a lot to like about this show—the intelligent new script by a local playwright, an innovative co-production with Coquitlam’s Evergreen Cultural Centre where it first opened before arriving in Vancouver, and its incorporation of corporeal mime into an otherwise essentially naturalistic play. Good acting and stylish staging round out what should be a fully satisfying evening, but isn’t quite.

Elaine Avila’s play is about passion. A well-to-do young married couple, Alice and Paulo, passionately in love, commission Cecilia, a high-end architect, to design their spectacular beachfront dream home on a Gulf Island. Cecilia is passionate about her architectural work. She demands, and eventually gets from Alice at least, an equally passionate commitment from her clients. Paulo, an entrepreneurial software developer, is as passionate in his own quieter way about his company. All is well so long as the passions are all in synch, which they inevitably won’t be for long.

Cecilia talks a lot about architecture, not so much as art or vocation but as spiritual compulsion: “your design is a record of how to contain life itself.” Though interesting for a while, the high-flown, rhetorical quality tends to wear thin, and Cecilia’s slightly bullying arrogance and cavalier attitude towards cost overruns suggest that we should be careful not to buy totally into her vision. Alice’s responses grow equally abstruse as she becomes fanatically attached to the house, almost as if it were a living thing, a substitute for the child she’s so ambivalent about having. Both Corina Akeson’s Cecilia and Maiko Bae Yamamoto’s Alice are played with a kind of dramatic formality that further alienates the increasingly distant characters—except in Alice’s love scenes with Paulo, the businessman who surprisingly talks and behaves most like a normal human being. Maybe that’s the play’s ultimate message: make love, not architecture. As Paulo, the always likeable Bob Frazer wins the sympathy battle for me more easily than I think the script intends. Finally though, I find it hard to care a whole lot about people who foolishly financially overextend themselves to build a $3 million house.

Director Thrasso Petras stages the play arena-style with audience on both sides of a long, thin rectangular platform with screens at each end for projections. Because of the sharp viewing angle, the images establishing the island ambience, architectural designs and material textures are never as crisp or dynamic as they’re meant to be. The staging is more successful in allowing quick counterpoint effects between characters on different parts of the platform. Most interesting, though, is the corporeal mime, a specialty of Cor Departure Theatre and their training wing, Tooba Physical Theatre. At the opening of each act and the beginning of selected scenes, the characters do a kind of tense mime tango combined with stylized arm wrestling and a few little hip checks. There’s a nice, strange attraction-repulsion quality to these moments, enhanced by the lighting of Jonathan Ryder and Terence van der Woude, and Jeff Corness’s ambient electronic sound. I wouldn’t have minded more.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Tuesday, December 28, 2004 8:12 PM
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