STATIONARY is an admirable new musical
Book and lyrics by Christine Quintana. Music by Mishelle Cuttler. Rap lyrics by Brian Cochrane. Directed by Laura McLean. At the Vancouver East Cultural Centre as part of the Neanderthal Arts Festival on Thursday, July 19. Continues until July 29
It’s a little out of focus, but it’s shiny.
In STATIONARY: a recession-era musical, writer Christine Quintana delivers a witty show about the career dissatisfactions of 20-somethings. Soon after the characters file onto the office set, we figure out that they’re working for Northern Light Communications. Some of them claim to be in publishing, but really the business manages the placement of print advertising. These aren’t the jobs that dreams are made of. No wonder the office workers sing, “So, sorry, eight-year-old me.”
Still, there’s whimsy lurking under every desk—mostly in the form of musical instruments. A guy opens a laptop and, rather than typing on its keys, he starts to play the little xylophone inside. The receptionist has a drum kit stashed in her desk and the office manager’s stack of files conceals a keyboard. The surprise keeps working and it’s a sweet metaphor for barely repressed creativity.
A plot emerges. Anna, the nasty office manager who monitors emails and Internet use, has a prize to give away: an assistant-manager position. Will it go to Mel, the leading salesperson who, according to Anna, wears her skirts too short? Or will Brad, the would-be rap star, snag the gig? There’s a subplot, too: Lizzie, the receptionist, is sweet on Aiden, the new guy. In one of Quintana’s many clever songs, they warble, “I file away my feelings/when I see you every day/hoping to find the human resources to say…”
Quintana’s book is also wryly clever—Lizzie and Aiden speak to one another in the pop-psychology terms of daytime television—and director Laura McLean matches Quintana’s deliberate naiveté in visual flourishes, such as the cardboard shooting star that flies over the heads of our would-be lovers.
Mishelle Cuttler’s varied score helps Quintana create songs that range from the melancholy to the anthemic “Tomorrow, My Friend”.
Director McLean has pulled together a gifted cast. Quintana possesses a crystalline soprano, and Meaghan Chenosky (the short-skirted Mel) and Claire Hesselgrave (Britta, Mel’s heavy-drinking pal) are a treat when they rock out together in “Comin’ for You”, in which they imagine their revenge on the manager. Throughout, Hesselgrave’s comic timing is exemplary, and Kayla Dunbar’s choreography makes you want to dance along.
Still, STATIONARY’s script could be tighter. For me, one of the most satisfying songs is also the most political. In “Recession-Era Rag”, the characters spit out their grievances: they’ve accrued huge student-loan debts only to be told that they’re overqualified for any available job and will never be able to afford a home. There’s even a little swipe in there about Stephen Harper and fighter jets. Then, in the next breath, Lizzie, the timid receptionist, steps out of character to tell everybody to stop complaining. Why the reversal?
Often, the story feels like an undisciplined pastiche as opposed to a taut narrative, and things fall apart a bit at the end, when some characters make unmotivated choices.
Still, you don’t come across an admirable new musical every day, and STATIONARY is an admirable new musical.