Play With Monsters shows how acting and directing can bring an expository script to life

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By Aaron Bushkowsky. Directed by Rachel Peake. A Solo Collective Theatre production. At Performance Works on Friday, November 9. Continues until November 18

Aaron Bushkowsky’s new script, Play With Monsters, is diverting—but not very.

It starts off with the central character saying, “Hi. My name’s Drew. I’ll be your narrator tonight.” Then Drew shows us what a disappointment he has been to his parents: Mom and Dad were so stoked on Drew’s potential that their burdening expectations helped to turn him towards a brief career as a car thief and a longer career as a failure.

Streams of fantasy and reality flow together, but it seems clear that, as an adult Drew went to France with his sommelier father and met a Singaporean woman named Lily there. Lily has her own parental issues: “My father is a god to me. I must surpass his expectations at all costs.” So, if their romance is going to blossom, Drew and Lily have a few things to work out.

The parents are the monsters of the title—after death, Drew’s mom and dad haunt his as the undead—but the notion that our parents hover in our psyches is obvious. At its core, the play feels like an illustration of familiar ideas rather than an exploration of the unknown so, in that sense, it’s stillborn. The script is often expository instead of dramatic—especially off the top I longed for scenes rather than prose disguised as dialogue—and the writing is so freely associative that it’s hard to find an emotional reality base to invest in.

At his excellent best, in scripts such as My Chernobyl and After Jerusalem, Bushkowsky combines eccentric wit with emotional weight. The playful sense of absurdity is alive and well here, and it’s exquisitely well realized by Andrew McNee (Drew), who is one of the most resourceful clowns you’re ever going to see. McNee can turn a bit of business—choking on the smoke from a doobie—into a quick comic feast. And he has a genius for delivering Bushkowsky’s slacker humour.

When Drew tells Lily that he’s an entrepreneur and she asks what his enterprise his, he replies, “Whatever comes along”; McNee delivers the simple line with an off-balance combination of bravado and shame that makes it hilarious.

Newcomer Josette Jorge also does a terrific job with Lily. Especially in the early going, the joke is that Lily is humourless, and the Asian-as-automaton shtick could have come across as racist. But Jorge’s obvious intelligence puts her in control and, as the play goes on, both the script and the performer reveal more and more of the humanity that pulses beneath Lily’s prim exterior.

It’s odd that this Singaporean woman with a Chinese accent has a father whose accent is distinctly Japanese, but Hiro Kanagawa plays Lily’s old man with a wittily solemn deadpan.

Seasoned pros Bill Dow and Karin Konoval don’t find much fun in Drew’s dad and mom, but that may not be their fault.

Shizuka Kai designed the handsome minimalist set and Itai Erdal the lush lighting.

Rachel Peake has done an excellent job of directing Play with Monsters—casting it, shaping the business, creating theatrical moments—but I had hoped the script would deliver more surprising beasts.

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