Kid Gloves is stylistically all over the map
By Sally Stubbs. Directed by Donna Spencer. A Firehall Arts Centre production. At the Firehall Arts Centre on Wednesday, November 14. Continues until December 1
It goes to show you: not even the best actors in Vancouver can save a bad script.
In Kid Gloves, local playwright Sally Stubbs imagines what life might have been like for Vancouver’s—and Canada’s—first two female police officers, who were hired a hundred years ago, in 1912. Shamefully, the RCMP didn’t welcome female officers until 1974, and sexism, which women cops continue to face, is one of the subjects of the play. Does the political context provide a good enough reason to produce this script? Not by half.
The play is a kind of cop-show mystery—with an obvious solution. Constables Minnie Miller (Dawn Petten) and Lurancy Harris (Colleen Wheeler) struggle to protect Mai Ji (Marlene Ginader), a young prostitute, from corrupt interests within the city’s establishment. But only one character wields real power, so it’s quickly apparent who the villain is.
Stylistically, Kid Gloves is all over the map—and that’s its fundamental downfall. There are moments of sophistication: Harris has a masochistic streak, which might compromise her investigation of Conor O’Rourke (Scott Bellis), the darkly charming bawdyhouse owner. But the potent image of a guy kissing a bleeding wound that he inflicted butts up against: goofy nonsense, including a running gag about dill pickles; melodrama, in which a cop hiding under a bed overhears dastardly deeds; and sentimentality, in which a savage prisoner is soothed by the singing of “Greensleeves”.
And then there’s the vaudeville. Every now and again, Mai Ji and O’Rourke perform musical and comic turns. For these interludes, the plot’s pulse, such as it is, flatlines. Ginader’s singing is barely audible. (Her performance throughout is wooden.) And the comic bits, including one that features cross-dressing, are execrable.
To their enormous credit, Petten and Wheeler bring impressive commitment and enormous chops to the central roles; they are both in there, eyes welling with tears, feelin’ this thing for more than it’s worth. Scott Bellis brings instant depth to the stage in his first appearance as the roguish O’Rourke, and because he commits so thoroughly to the awful vaudeville sequences, he makes it off the stage with an egg-free face. And Deborah Williams is terrific as both the iron-willed society matron, Gertrude Crane, and Bella Boychuk, Mai Ji’s hulking, violent, brain-damaged sidekick.
To Francesca Albertazzi’s busy set, director Donna Spencer adds arbitrary blocking. And she follows Stubbs down her artistic blind alleys, providing a little Keystone Cops here, a little social realism there.
But Spencer’s biggest mistake was at the programming level: as artistic producer of the Firehall, she should have looked beyond the historical and contemporary relevance of the subject matter and recognized Kid Gloves for the artistic grab bag that it is.