Written and staged by Michèle Lonsdale Smith. A Lyric Stage Project production. At the PAL Theatre on Thursday, November 13. Continues until November 22
It looks good, its heart is in the right place, and it’s generally well acted, but that’s not enough.
The 21st Floor, which director Michèle Lonsdale Smith wrote with help from the company, is naive in its exploration of urban alienation. It features a bunch of characters who live way up in the air somewhere in Vancouver. Poor Kenny, a displaced cowboy from Alberta, keeps trying to talk to people in the hallway, but nobody’s friendly. So he decides to hold a “let’s-get-to-know-your-neighbours soirée”. Predictably, things go poorly. Melodramatically, tragedy ensues. Kenny’s social planning is the play’s central action, and it’s both obvious and maudlin.
The dialogue is on-the-nose, too. Kenny and his one confidant, a washed-up prof named Marty, have a lot of conversations about why folks aren’t more open. “I wait for them to say something. Snobs!” Marty contributes. The politics are similarly ham-fisted. A guy named Craig does Webcasts about homelessness.
There are serious credibility problems with the characters. Most of them are living in luxury on unlikely sources of income. One guy writes a food column.
Lonsdale Smith artificially pumps up the drama with a lot of heartless sex. It turns out Kenny has more than one use for his lasso. There’s impressionism, too: a spirit played by Matt Ward does capoeira moves that are lost on the other building residents because they can’t see him. This convention doesn’t contribute much or go anywhere, though. For all of its effort, The 21st Floor feels simultaneously overblown and flat.
The actors fare well, however. As written, Kenny is almost an abstraction, an idea of baffled innocence, but Graem Beddoes is simply honest in the part. Anthony Ulc is believably wasted and despairing as Marty. And Anna Williams brings a creepy deadness to a coked-out model named Alex.
Lonsdale Smith uses the PAL Theatre space well. She leaves the back wall of windows exposed, so we see the wasted lives in front of us in the context of the condo dwellers on the other side of the glass. In the set, which Lonsdale Smith conceived, the walls and doors of the apartments are sketched in with elegantly simple silver frames.
Urban alienation is an important subject and an ambitious one for a new writer. But it’s seen far more successful treatment in the poetic realism of Aaron Bushkowsky’s Soulless and the chipper surrealism of James Long and Maiko Bae Yamamoto’s Yu-fo.