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by David Mackay
Yorick Theatre
Performance Works
Granville Island
Feb. 7-17

There was something in the air this week in Vancouver theatres.  Hmmm.  Sniff sniff.  It’s a familiar smell.  I never inhaled, of course, but I recognize it, um, from my university days.

Three new plays from Vancouver playwrights and the common denominator is … the 2010 Olympics? Global warming?  No. It’s weed, bud, BC’s cash crop.  It’s reefer madness 2007.

David King’s Up Island, Marcus Youssef’s Adrift on the Nile, and now David Mackay’s Thicker Than Water all get extended comic mileage out of characters smoking, dealing, or just talking about pot. If art is a barometer registering our deepest anxieties and most profound values, what are these plays telling us about ourselves in the here and now? I wonder.

Thicker Than Water concerns a depressive shoe fetishist who finances his sister’s investment in a grow-op, then starts a relationship with a neurotic female cop while his sister is held for ransom by a thuggish porn movie producer.  It’s lightweight but very funny stuff with a couple of unexpected twists and a first-rate comic cast. And just in time for Valentine’s Day it even turns into a weird date play.

Mackay has established himself at the Arts Club and Bard on the Beach as an imaginative comedian.  He does triple duty here as playwright, producer (Yorick Theatre is his company), and the central character, Tim. 

As a challenge to his own comic ingenuity, Mackay makes Tim a sad, low-key, divorced guy who sits on his couch staring catatonically at the TV and tossing back prescription pills or inhaling the inside of women’s shoes that he compulsively steals. 

Much of the energy is provided by Tim’s foul-mouthed little sister Amanda (Rebecca Auerbach), who is just as aggressive as he is passive.  When she comes to borrow money to invest in our most lucrative export, Tim’s life quickly turns upside-down.

Further complications ensue when officer Judy (Dawn Petten) comes knocking during a peeping Tom investigation and thug Dan (Derek Metz) muscles in on the dope deal.  Nicely twisted relationships develop.          

The situation might seem to call for farce but director James Fagan Tait relies instead on Mackay’s clever dialogue and the actors’ excellent comic timing to make, for example, a quiet getting-to-know-you conversation between Petten’s all-too candid Judy and Mackay’s eager but embarrassed Tim terrifically funny.  Part of our pleasure is seeing how long the actors can hold their lines until the lengthy gales of laughter settle down enough for them to be heard.

And don’t worry, nobody inhales.  All this comedy is legal.

Jerry Wasserman