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vancouverplays review


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— L-R: Jennifer Mawhinny, Shaker Paleja. Photo: Paul Campbell

by Dennis Foon, Kevin Loring, Michele Riml, Michael St. John Smith & Adrienne Wong
Pi Theatre
CBC Studio 700
Oct. 5-15
From $10
604-629-VTIX or

To help celebrate Vancouver’s 125th birthday, Pi Theatre commissioned a group of writers to come up with their personal visions of contemporary life in our city. The four playlets that make up Visions of Vancouver paint a fairly unflattering portrait with few revelations.

The Best Place on Earth this definitely is not. The three R’s loom large: real estate, rain, riot. The downtown is alienating and unfriendly. Traffic is hell and watch out for bedbugs. We’re spared homilies on homelessness, gangs and gunplay but given no sense either of why anyone chooses to live here.

Actors Carmen Aguirre, Patrick Keating, Jennifer Mawhinney and Shaker Paleja form the ensemble for all four pieces.

In Adrienne Wong’s “Elevate,” Mawhinney plays a perky young woman who moves into an upper-floor apartment in a downtown high-rise. Squeezing into 550 square feet reachable only by a slow elevator in which no one makes eye contact, she’s besieged by an unhappy dog (impressively barked by Aguirre), a suspicious neighbour and a fascist strata council. If you’re thinking of buying a condo, this might change your mind.

Michele Riml and Michael St. John Smith’s “The Bridge” presents an earnest history lesson with Keating as a former ironworker threatening to jump off the Second Narrows bridge, which he had been working on during its disastrous 1958 collapse. As a cop tries to talk him down, a couple caught in the ensuing traffic jam argues viciously, the major irritant being their despair about housing prices.

Real estate reappears in the strangest of the four pieces, Dennis Foon’s “The Dead Line.” Paleja plays a dying man in a futuristic Vancouver who made a killing buying hillside property in Little Mountain as the city became submerged by rising sea levels. A new technology enables him to telephone various dead relatives, but the gags aren’t funny and the conversations seem pointless.

“The Thin Veneer” by Kevin Loring replays the Stanley Cup riot from four different perspectives. Although the material is familiar, the counterpoint of voices in this well-written piece provides a dramatic dynamic missing from most of the rest of the evening. I especially liked Aguirre’s character imagining Roberto Luongo’s response to the four goals he gave up in Game 7. It’s a cheap shot but very funny.

Staged in CBC’s Hamilton Street studios, the play suffers from director Richard Wolfe’s curious decision to present it as an old-time radio drama. The actors remain largely static, sometimes speaking into unnecessary microphones. Although elements of Jergus Oprsal’s set are striking, there’s nothing else very visual about these visions of an anxious city .

 Jerry Wasserman