Gods Plans is alert, playful, and deliberate

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Written and directed by Wade Kinley. Produced by No Set List with Chad Machin. At Studio East (1480 Frances Street) on Thursday, June 19. Continues until June 28

Wade Kinley is a promising writer—who hasn’t quite found the voice that’s going to release the full force of his talent.

Kinley’s second play—last year’s Glendale was his first—is enormously ambitious, a sometimes comic, cowboy exploration of existentialism. Fidgety Gerry and grizzled Lloyd are hanging out in the desert miles outside Mesquite, Nevada. References to the B.C. gold rush place us sometime in the latter half of the 19th century.

In their tramplike status, yearning for meaning, and vaudevillian exchanges, these guys are immediately reminiscent of Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot. They’re planning to rob a train, but you can’t help but ask, “Will the train ever come?” In the meantime, they debate fate, chance, and free will. Doubling up on his literary allusions, Kinley has Lloyd quote from Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Gerry interprets this to mean that a monster called a Hamlet is coming to kill them. Later developments reference Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit.

So Gods Plans is intellectually alert and playful. It’s also very, very deliberate. The philosophical conversations are often too bald to invite emotional investment. To approach this from a slightly different angle, too often the characters’ voices sound like they must be the playwright’s rather than their own. “Get out of your mind,” Lloyd tells Gerry. “Might do you some good. Look where you are. Nature.” Does that sound like a cowboy to you?

The script’s second scene, in which Gerry tries to convince a prostitute named Catherine to marry him, is stronger in that it’s rooted in a relationship in which both characters are urgently pursuing their emotional goals. On the other hand, the long monologue that Lloyd delivers in Act 2 over a corpse is redundantly explanatory and should be cut.
Still, Kinley’s gifts are apparent. He turns a great comic line: Catherine says she loves fucking a rich man: “The way his balls smack up against my ass like little bags of money.” And Kinley pays attention to rhythm. “I ain’t scared,” Gerry says to Lloyd. “Are you scared? A little bit?”

Physically, the production, which Kinley directed, is stylin’. Set designer Florence Barrett places a long, narrow projection screen upstage—it feels like you’re at a little drive-in—then splashes a star-spangled night sky and other essential images across it. The music, by Kinley and Tariq Hussain, is as spacious as the desert and far gentler.

As a director, Kinley has made a huge error with his sightlines. The seating area is so wide and Kinley has placed so much of the action so far downstage that almost nobody in the house gets a decent view. Hopefully, he’ll adjust this for the rest of the run.

The work of one of the actors, Giacomo Baessato, is certainly worth seeing. Baessato gets everything there is to be had out of Gerry’s sweet, dangerous, comic vulnerability. Jason Diablo (Lloyd) is at his best when the character gets drunk and Diablo’s rhythms loosen up. (Off the top, Kinley does his actors no favours by directing them to deliver their lines at a repetitive, impenetrable pace.) There’s more to be found in Catherine’s pain than Caitlin McCarthy digs up.

Gods Plans is at a cool warehouse venue on Frances Street. It contains fresh, noteworthy talent, some raw, some refined.

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