Double Feature: Private Lives (Vancouver, BC) and Orphans (Spokane, WA)

I’ve been going to a good number of plays this year and I don’t know why. Theatre has always been my least favourite of the performing arts: it just seems like opera without the beautiful music, or ballet without the beautiful dancing.

It doesn’t help that Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach is so smug as “Western Canada’s largest annual Shakespeare festival” that it doesn’t mind putting on dull productions full of overactors set in time periods just “modern” enough to reduce costs for wardrobes and sets, summer after summer…

But I’m rambling.

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The stage, photographed from our private “balcony” seats

On St. Valentine’s Day, I took B-cat to see United Players of Vancouver‘s production of Private Lives. Written by Noel Coward, this comedy was touted to be “witty” and “wicked” and full of love and lust in the fairly low-budget ads, one of which was placed in the Bacchae 2.1 programme.

I chose this play over two others on Valentine’s evening for the charming retro illustration in the promo:

private_insetAmanda and Elyot, formerly wife and husband, run into each other while honeymooning in France with their respective new spouses. The two try to flee the hotel with said new spouses, but then, quickly overcoming initial ill will, flee with each other instead. The abandoned newlyweds pair up to pursue A and E, and… shenanigans ensue!

Although Amanda (Caitlin Clugston) delivers all her lines in a sing-song, over-the-top nasal way that grates on the ears at times, she and her Elyot (Ted Cole) make a believable and highly charming couple. Oh so sweet together they are, whether they’re so right or so wrong for each other — B-cat and I don’t agree on that last point and thus feel differently about the ending.

The story is also a bit thin, but the dialogue makes up for it, and the play is fast-paced and funny over all. Private Lives is the theatre equivalent of champagne (or sparkling cider if that’s your thing), and Valentine’s is the perfect time for it, even for tragedy lovers like me.

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A week after that, B-cat took me to Spokane, Washington (our first vacation in a foreign country, haha), where we caught Orphans at Spokane Civic Theatre.

It’s to the theatre’s credit that Orphans was the highlight of our trip, even if the border guard was loudly incredulous that anyone would visit such a small town (though I shouldn’t give much credit to the opinion of someone who works at the border yet cannot pronounce “spo-KAN”)… Wait, is this even a compliment anymore?

The theatre is divided into what appear to be a more professional side and a more “junior” (?) side, with the latter literally accessible by a small side door. The front lobby featured no signage for Orphans, but after much running about, we did manage to get on the waiting list and, an hour later, the pair of tickets we really should’ve purchased in advance — the play is more popular than I expected.

It is, without exaggeration, the best B-cat and I have seen together to date. Written by Lyle Kessler, it centres around two grown (physically but not emotionally) orphan brothers, Treat and Phillip, who are baited and jostled out of their sad, stagnated existences by Harold, a shady businessman and former orphan. The staging is small and intimate, making the acrobatics more impressive and the violence more startling.

My programme (and the most delicious lobby snacks)
My programme (and the most delicious lobby snacks)

Maxim Chumov plays Phillip, the trusting younger brother with the underdeveloped yet curious mind, so well that he is painful to watch. Jamie Flanery’s Harold is the father I wish I had (figuratively)… once I realised his sinister undertones didn’t hint at pedophilia. (Hey, B-cat suspected the same thing.) Billy Hultquist makes a great amateur thug and overprotective big brother as Treat, but doesn’t pull off a convincing enough transformation at the end.

At times I cringed at the sappiness, and wondered if the play, with its unflinching sentimentality, would’ve made it to Vancouver at all, let alone produce a roomful of tear-streaked faces. But then I reminded myself how tedious it could get when everything had to be experimental and ironic and hipstertastic, and I cried for the orphans with everyone else.

One of the actors told us they will be bringing Orphans on tour for a national competition after trimming it down to an hour in length. I couldn’t find further information, but if they happen to visit a city near you, and if you’re not too much of a hipster, do go see them.