This, Here digs ambitiously into identity and art

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      By James Gordon King. Directed by Marie Farsi. A Babelle Theatre production at the VanCity Culture Lab on July 18. Continues until July 28

      This, Here is an ambitious exploration of the concept of identity, but it’s not always clear what’s behind the mask.

      The play is set on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast, where Alison has come with her partner, Maddie, to visit her newly relocated father. Brian is a playwright who’s been neglecting the more mundane aspects of life—like unpacking his possessions, which are still in boxes stacked around the house—while trying to finish the play he’s been working on for the past six years. Alison has just turned 30 and is reconsidering her acting career (while Maddie is contemplating giving up her successful catering business), and can’t stand her father’s irresponsibility and pompous self-absorption.

      The setup seems perfect for a contemporary comedy of manners based on a conflict between city and country life, or between generations. But the usual roles are reversed: Alison is the advocate of practicality, while her father champions the role of the dreamer. And, while there are comedic moments, a mysterious emotional undertow permeates all the interactions between Alison and Brian. After the characters act out part of Brian’s work-in-progress, a Greek tragedy pregnant with symbolism (masks, gods, dead parents), the tone shifts abruptly, and the story becomes one of heartbreak and loss.

      Under Marie Farsi’s direction, Olivia Hutt gets an emotional workout as Alison; her containment in the early scenes is matched by her later disintegration. David Bloom’s Brian puts a cheerful face on his loneliness, but he can be vulnerable, especially in a touching scene when he tries to offer reassurance. Sarah Vickruck brings the exuberant energy of a puppy to her portrayal of Maddie, Alison’s sweet, solid anchor.  Whether she’s stoned and desperately trying to figure out where to focus her gaze, doing yoga in the garden, or playing a song on the thumb harp, Vickruck is right there, a study in presence.

      Sound designer James Coomber uses sustained musical interludes to create narrative and emotional transitions. Some of these are very effective—like Cat Power’s gorgeous “Where Is My Love”—but the feelings they evoke can’t fill the narrative gaps in King’s script. Why have Alison and Maddie come to visit? What would Alison do if she weren’t an actor? Was her late mother still with Brian when she died? Is Brian mentally ill or just annoying? How did things turn so dark so quickly?

      This, Here asks interesting questions about how artists commodify their personal experience. I appreciate its audacious mix of forms, but I’d love to see them cohere more seamlessly.