By Jordan Hall. Directed by Rachel Peake. An Alley Theatre production. At the Cultch’s Vancity Culture Lab on Tuesday, May 14, as part of the rEvolver Theatre Festival. Continues until May 26
Smart, funny, political: if this play were a guy, I’d date him—and embrace his imperfections.
In Kayak, emerging playwright Jordan Hall, who won the Samuel French Canadian Playwrights Contest for this script, looks at some of the ways that love and absurdity get tangled up in ecological ethics.
Annie adores her young-adult son, Peter, but she can’t stand Peter’s bright green girlfriend, Julie. Annie complains that, in her zealous environmentalism, Julie has a habit of “making perfectly nice people uncomfortable at parties”. And Julie really is relentless: at one point, she makes the pronouncement that “mercy only helps the guilty.” But Julie burns with an intensity that Peter finds irresistible. Besides, she offers an alternative—well, the flipside really—to his overbearing mom and the stultifying but financially secure life that she has mapped out for him.
This script contains some very witty writing. When Julie and Peter see one another for the first time after going through a rough patch, she asks, “How’s prosperity?” He replies, “Prosperous. How’s self-righteousness?” And she shoots back, “Justified.”
Annie sits in a kayak—lost, dehydrated, and sunburnt—for the entire play, speaking directly to the audience, as well as remembering and hallucinating scenes with the other characters. (In this production, scenic designer Lauchlin Johnston suspends the boat on a cradle about three feet off the floor.) It’s great that Hall has created such a striking picture; too many playwrights ignore the physicality of theatre. And the writer paddles her image through a series of associations—all of the characters refer to Noah and the Flood—right into surrealism. I won’t give away why Annie is paddling, but I will tell you that the answer is pretty cool.
Susan Hogan makes a persuasively charming Annie. Hogan brings such warmth to the character—she’s got such a sexy, conspiratorial voice, and such sly humour—that it’s hard not to side with her, even when Annie dismisses Julie’s international activism as an “adventure tour disguised as social work” that’s designed “to help people too weak to help themselves”.
Playing Peter, Sebastian Kroon capitalizes on his openness and likability, which are his great strengths as a performer. When Julie takes a swipe at Peter and he replies, “Jules, I’m really trying here,” Kroon delivers the line with such unadorned vulnerability that you feel the character’s hurt.
The playwright makes things a whole lot tougher for the actor who plays Julie. Late in the play, Hall gives the activist a lovely monologue in which she reveals the compassion that drives her relentlessness, but, for most of the evening, Julie is humourless and unkind. Performer Marisa Smith does solid work, but she can’t scrape enough vulnerability out of the text to make the evening’s dialectic truly dynamic.
Under Rachel Peake’s able direction, Alley Theatre’s production—including Malcolm Dow’s gentle, spacious original music—is pleasingly minimalist.
And Kayak takes environmentalism seriously. That’s heartening, even though the audience emerged from the theatre on opening night to find out that the majority of British Columbians who voted don’t.