By Jenn Griffin. Directed by Donna Spencer. A Firehall Arts Centre presentation. At the Firehall Arts Centre on Saturday, January 18. Continues until January 25
In Act 2 of Jenn Griffin’s new play, House and Home, grad student and renter Wren (Kimberly Ho) admonishes her girlfriend, Marika (Darian Roussy), for her spontaneous decision to quit her restaurant gig after a drunk patron gropes her. “Only rich people get to quit!” Wren says. Ho’s delivery is as perfect as the line itself: tragically funny and appropriately disdainful because it’s horrible and true.
House and Home is a play about housing precarity and privilege in Vancouver, and when it works, it’s smart and funny. When it doesn’t work, which is a substantial amount of the first act, it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to say.
Hilary (Jillian Fargey) and Henry (Andrew Wheeler) are a middle-aged white couple who bought their house after Henry inherited some money. Since then, the value of the house has more than tripled, but the couple (dual income, no kids) is financially strapped. Hilary is on stress leave from her social-worker job and Henry is a poverty lawyer who only has one client and is obsessed with Butoh dancing. The basement apartment they rent to Wren, a young queer woman of colour, is infested with rats and when she threatens to withhold her rent, Henry encourages Hilary to seize the moment, evict Wren, and transition into the short-term rental market.
The problems with Act 1 are that most of the characters feel like broadly drawn stereotypes rather than real people. For some reason, it’s Wren, the POC character played by a racialized woman, who’s tasked with telling Hilary that her white girlfriend Marika “doesn’t identify as white”, but rather as an “ally”. Hilary then tells Wren that women like her are the real problem with feminism, and goes on a tirade about power dynamics. The whole exchange is a mess, and it’s mostly dropped in Act 2. Sam Bob does everything he can with his character, the Pest Maven, who serves as a kind of magical Indigenous person popping up on-stage to talk in metaphors about rats, how he lives “communally” (a coded, winking reference to living on a reserve?), and the hypocrisy of owning a house on “home and Native land” (Bob’s emphasis and the gleam in his eye make the joke work).
Act 2 is more clearly focused, and it benefits from a fun villain in the ridiculous tech-bro douche Auxl (Sebastien Archibald in one of three roles). Auxl has all the money and all the power, and the quick cash influx he promises comes with some razor-sharp strings. Auxl is only on-stage for about seven minutes total, but Archibald’s performance is a standout.
House and Home understands that the Auxls of the world are helping to ruin the housing scene in Vancouver, but it doesn’t quite go far enough to get at some deeper truths about what it really means to be settlers on stolen land in a capitalist system that treats housing as a commodity rather than a human right.