FEBRUARY 2023 | Volume 224
I’m sorry that I didn’t get to see The Cull earlier in its run. Because of a bout with Covid, I wasn’t able to attend until a few days before closing, so it’s a little late to let Vancouverites know what a good show it is.
The new script by Michele Riml and Michael St. John Smith is smart, complex and detailed, though perhaps a little overloaded (as new plays tend to be) and overly melodramatic toward the end. The acting by all six performers is sterling, the show has a handsome look, and Mindy Parfitt’s imaginative, dynamic direction takes high honours. This is a show about adults for adults, though you may not like what it says.
Three couples gather for a 25th anniversary party. Five of the six have been friends since childhood. The couple being celebrated, Emily (Dawn Petten) and Lewis (Stephen Lobo), are struggling financially, but carpenter Lewis is an artist reluctant to compromise his work for money.
The party’s hosts are Lewis’ best friend, Paul (Craig Erickson), a developer, and his wife Nicole (Meghan Gardiner), who has spent a lot of money on upscale furnishings for their large new home. Paul is loud and takes up a lot of space. As will be the case with all three couples, tensions between husband and wife become more overt as the play progresses.
The third couple, Lynne (Jasmine Chen) and John (John Cassini), the only outsider, are the wealthiest, in the process of turning Lynne’s family orchards into a condo development, to which the other two couples are also connected. Money is the real common denominator that links the six. The play’s driving force, John is the most philosophical of the characters, the most powerful, and either the most realistic or most cynical as he attacks what he considers the others’ champagne liberalism. He and Nicole go head to head in one of the play’s strongest scenes.
Lynne and John are also the only childless couple, one of many elements—along with the lacerating personal conflicts—that remind me of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
The title refers to a cull of wolves taking place nearby, and various discussions of wolves run through the play, a somewhat heavy-handed metaphor for the pack made up by these six characters. There will be a sort of cull at the end of the play, but I’m not sure that particular metaphor makes the most sense of what happens.
Director Mindy Parfitt and set designer Amir Ofek give is a striking bare stage with six white folding chairs, which the actors move as they move around the stage in a formal choreography. There are no props and no miming: when the actors refer to pouring wine or washing dishes, no one actually performs any actions. The effect is to focus on the characters’ intentions and their internal responses. Alaia Hamer’s costumes are handsomely realistic, but the actors are all barefoot, further removing the action from realist theatre towards something like dance with dialogue.Like Redbone Coonhound, another fine play developed and premiered at the Arts Club this season, now getting rave reviews in Toronto, The Cull should have a very successful future.
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