By Mark Leiren-Young. Directed by TJ Dawe. A West End Players production. At the Arts Club’s Granville Island Stage on Friday, May 10. Continues until May 25
At one point during the performance, my companion whipped her head around as if she were auditioning for a shampoo commercial. But she wasn’t going for glamour. She’d realized that she was falling asleep, and she was whiplashing herself back to consciousness. By that point, at least one other person near me had completely nodded off. But I stayed awake so that I could tell you the grim tale.
Playwright Mark Leiren-Young based Never Shoot a Stampede Queen on his 2009 book of the same name, which won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. I haven’t read the book, but nothing in the play is funny; one of its first jokes is about cops and doughnuts.
Both the script and the book draw on the same period in the author’s life: fresh out of the University of Victoria, Leiren-Young took a job at the Williams Lake Tribune. Over the course of the play’s single act, we watch as the young reporter meets a brainless female gas-station attendant and a gaggle of narcissistic beauty queens. He also encounters a number of tough, taciturn men. All of these portraits are predictable and shallow.
The narrative thread that struggles to hold everything together is so weak that it almost doesn’t exist. It’s also condescending. The reporter starts off mildly dreading his trip to the boonies, and he ends up feeling mild affection for the people of the Cariboo—who, according to him, are just like the rest of us, except they’re drunker, more violent, and more racist. Amid this motley crew, the reporter emerges as a hero. Sure, he’s a goof on the outside, but he fights the good fight for the oppressed Natives and for the kids at a local trailer park who can’t get the school bus to stop in a safe place.
Under TJ Dawe’s unfortunate direction, Zachary Stevenson, who is a skilled and charismatic actor, tries to win the day through energetic good humour, and ends up looking like he’s in bad kids’ theatre.
Lighting cues were sloppy on opening night and Cayman Duncan’s sound design makes endless, witless use of Ennio Morricone’s iconic musical phrase from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
If you want to fall asleep sitting up, save yourself some cash: stay home and do it.