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preview imageLA VUE D’EN HAUT
by James Long, trans. Philippe Ducros
Théâtre la Seizième 
Studio 16, 1545, West 7th  Av.
March 26 - April 5

The undertaking is admirable. The result?  Not quite satisfying.  Théâtre la Seizième and Ruby Slippers have joined forces to present both French and English language productions of James Long’s latest offering, A View from Above.  While Philippe Ducros’s French translation (La vue d’en haut) is on now at Studio 16, the English language premiere will open April 12 at Performance Works. (If you’re torn between tongues, I’d suggest the English version to those who’ve left high school French in high school... mais les autres, vas-y!)

The premise for La vue d’en haut is undeniably sharp. Playwright Long mines the possibilities of Vancouver post-2010, setting his play amidst the apocalyptic ruins of a city whose Olympic dreams have been literally sunk by an endless, three-year-long downpour. Stuart and Marsha are the North Van anti-heroes in Long’s endgame – she’s an armchair prophetess, rendered nearly immobile by a bizarre foot ailment and he’s her busybody counterpart who dreams of Winnebagos and warmer weather. The couple’s obsession with a downturn in local real estate is soon replaced by genuine conflict as their long lost son, Roland, materializes with girlfriend and bundle of joy in tow. 

Drama ensues with the revelation that Roland was not so much lost as confined to a wheat silo with every other Vancouver junkie or prostitute whose unsavoury lot might inspire Olympic tourists to clutch their wallets that much tighter.

So far so good... but then the script wanes.  As Long’s story nears its denouement, his Beckettian sensibility and flare for satire give way to an underwhelming pathos.  Suddenly the audience is plunged into the icy waters of tragedy without warning.  This seems out of place in a play that excels within the absurdist arena of “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”  As the play concludes, Stuart tearfully pleads with his son to smother him, creating a drastic shift in tone which is irreparably jarring for the audience.

On the whole, director Craig Holzschuh approaches Long’s script with intelligence and clarity.  Problems arise, however, when slow pacing hinders already tedious scenes.  As well, Holzschuh sometimes allows performers to overplay the tragedy.  Let’s not forget, this is a play where a man’s pleas for his wife’s murder come with the rider: “but give it an hour or two first, just to see what happens with the rain.”

The performers are also fully committed to Long’s material.  Rachel Robillard approaches Marsha’s spirituality with strength and sense while Joey Lespérance brings humour to Stuart, mining all things fuddy-duddy about this quirky patriarch.  Although strapped with one-dimensional characters, Allen Morrison and Samantha Madely bring honesty to Long’s young down-and-outers.

Despite admirable work from the director, cast and designers, La vue d’en haut fails to meet its potential.  Instead, James Long’s clever conceit only achieves modest development and is ultimately marred by the playwright’s own stylistic wavering.  Here’s to the hope that the English language production transcends these troubles and opens to a reception that is right as rain.

Melissa Poll