Over Their Heads

In Amiel Gladstone's The Wedding Pool, Three Characters Examine Sex, Love, And The Horrors Of Debt

This is a portrait of an artist at 31. Like at least three of the four characters in his new script, The Wedding Pool, Amiel Gladstone was born in 1972. Like them, he is struggling to negotiate his adult contract with the world: his relationships to finances, mortality, and love. It's fitting somehow that Rumble Productions is presenting Theatre SKAM's mounting of The Wedding Pool at Performance Works from March 20 to 27 as part of its series The Young and the Restless.

In the play, Miles, Sylvia, and David each put 50 bucks a month into a joint bank account. Whoever marries first--elopements are okay, but a party is required--gets the cash. Miles falls in love with the teller who opens the account. David, who works in a warehouse, makes a lot of lists, including "Sexual Spaces Recalled: Pale green motel room, Tofino, bathroom. New Year's/Snow bank... Grouse Mountain... Winter coats." Sylvia toils as a waitress but dreams of being a dancer and grows phobic of the phone. It may bring messages of death; it will certainly bring harassing calls from a collection agency.

Miles, Sylvia, and David all enact different versions of how their deal to create the wedding pool was struck. And in this production, Gladstone, who is directing his own script, emphasizes the artificial--some might say theatrical--way we remember events by having the actors light one another with ordinary household lamps. It probably shouldn't come as a big surprise in a play with characters named Miles and David that the text has a distinctly jazzlike feel; metronomically tight comic rhythms underlie wild flights of fancy.

The Wedding Pool received rave reviews when it ran as part of the SummerWorks Festival in Toronto this past August, but as we sit in a stuffy room at the Jewish Community Centre, where Gladstone is helping to develop the collectively created script Transit Lounge, he seems dissatisfied, even mildly depressed.

Maybe it's his age. As a maturing adult, Gladstone is being forced to recognize that the world will not bend to his will. Growing up in Lumby, near Vernon, he was encouraged by his hippie parents to believe that he could accomplish absolutely anything he wanted. And he admits with a laugh that when he was an acting and directing student at the University of Victoria, his ambitions were grand. "I had this Robert Lepage fantasy: having six projects on the go all the time and this team of experts, and Peter Gabriel on the phone and Cirque du Soleil." Beating the rush, Gladstone suffered his first midlife crisis at 29: "It was ridiculous--all about letting go of this dream of being some kind of wí¼nderkind or something, the idea that I was going to be fantastically successful and that part of that was going to be doing it at 21."

As is the case with his character Sylvia, financial difficulties have been part of the playwright's rude awakening. Just as he was graduating from UVic, Gladstone received an inheritance from his grandfather that erased his student-loan debt. Ironically, he used his resulting excellent credit rating to get himself into trouble. "I started living beyond my means," he admits. "I wouldn't say I was living super extravagantly, but I was doing theatre." He defaulted on credit cards, failed to make his payments on a leased computer, and was soon being pursued by a collection agency. You could say he did the research that allowed him to create the character Sylvia before he paid up and got the agency off his back.

Sylvia's dread of getting a call from the Grim Reaper also derives from Gladstone's firsthand experience: "The phone call that my grandfather had died came while I was working at the box office. I tried to put my father on hold because it was 7:40 or something. There was just me at the Belfry Theatre and I was trying to get 300 people in." Gladstone is still struggling to accept that he can't know what happens to us after death.

Despite all of this, his work is buoyant. The Wedding Pool is not only funny, it is also suffused with a fundamental optimism. "I think that the play is hopeful and I think I'm hopeful," the writer offers, "even though the realities of what we do to each other sometimes make that hope difficult. What I've been working with is that everyone is doing their best. And that's giving me a bit of comfort."

What about romance? Gladstone says that he is "currently negotiating" his relationship status and describes his history as "storied". "I haven't figured out how to have a successful relationship. I get caught in a lot of wanting to have my own way. I've made a series of attempts... And these women have been fantastic. So that leads me back to me. Because the women don't get any better."

It's clear where the details of The Wedding Pool came from, but what about the concept the title refers to? Simple. It happened. It was 1995 and Theatre SKAM, the company Gladstone formed with three other artists, was enjoying a rush of success with its production of Sean Dixon's Billy Nothin' at the Vancouver Fringe Festival. "We were all in high spirits and we were making brunch for one another at somebody's house," Gladstone remembers. He vocalized his wish that more of his friends would get married so they could celebrate each other more often. Three of the people who were at that brunch--Gladstone, Camille Stubel (who plays Sylvia), and Matthew Payne (who plays David)--agreed to try to make it happen by creating a wedding pool. Their shared bank account lasted for a few months before it dissolved because the financially strapped Gladstone failed to keep up his end of the bargain.

The writer has turned this playful bet into a light but resonant philosophical exercise. "It's something about being able to laugh--I mean really laugh--at the human condition. It's about seeing some beauty. Something about togetherness, too. I think those are the main things: laughter, meaning, and togetherness," he explains.

Expanding on the comic viewpoint that keeps him going, the talented young artist adds: "In the renaissance that's happening in Vancouver right now in live theatre, I sometimes wish there was more laughter. It's one of the hardest things to do, but wouldn't it be great if it was, like, mandated?"

The Wedding Pool is at Performance Works from March 20 to 27.