By Wade Kinley. Directed by Chelsea Haberlin. An Us Rats Theater production. At Little Mountain Gallery on Thursday, March 7. Continues until March 16
Wade Kinley recently completed a graduate degree in playwriting from UBC, but if Glendale is any indication, he missed a few key lessons.
Lesson 1: Plot. In naturalistic dramas, the action is usually driven by a central character who wants something. In Glendale, Evelyn and her friend, Luanne, have come to a remote cabin to meet up with Evelyn’s estranged ex-husband, Mack, who’s arranged for Luanne to trade her backpack full of cash for some unspecified thing that he’s procuring from some shady gangster types. Why Luanne wants this thing isn’t clear—but the play seems to be Evelyn’s story, and it’s never clear what she wants either. Much of the 75-minute first act is spent in a holding pattern as Mack and Evelyn reminisce about their past.
Lesson 2: Character. The people who populate a play are more convincing if the author has a bead on their personalities. Kinley’s characters bob around like toy boats on a stormy lake—naive or savvy, generous or calculating, depending on what’s expedient in any given scene. Both Luanne and Evelyn repeatedly grasp, then fail to grasp, then perceive anew, then conveniently forget the sinister nature of “dangerous business” they’re engaged in. (When we eventually learn what is being bought, it’s so unbelievable that it’s hard to stay invested in the play.)
Lesson 3: Dialogue. Writing teachers of all stripes will tell you that dialogue is action. In Kinley’s script, characters always have time for chatty philosophical digressions, even when lives are at stake. This is particularly true late in the play, when Mack’s gangster friend, Jerry, shows up and the action ascends to dizzying heights of melodrama.
Director Chelsea Haberlin and her cast do their best to make this unconvincing script work. Tara Pratt’s Evelyn is taut and fidgety, appropriate for a character who keeps her cards close to her chest, and Katie Takefman brings a wide-eyed charm to the girlish Luanne. Colby Wilson is initially too self-conscious as Mack: everything he says feels like a pronouncement, but he finds more authenticity as the emotional stakes ramp up later in the play. Jason Diablo aims for quiet intensity as the exceptionally talkative gangster, Jerry, but he comes across as mechanical.
Florence Barrett’s scenic design works beautifully in this tiny space, making the audience part of the cabin’s quirky intimacy. It’s too bad the story isn’t equally inviting.