Written by Aaron Bushkowsky. Directed by Bill Dow. Produced by Solo Collective at Performance Works on Friday, November 17. Continues to November 26
Vancouver is in the midst of a housing emergency, but rather than focus on shelter as a human right, much of the conversation keeps coming back to the racist assumption that “overseas billionaires” are buying up all the houses, tearing down “our” history, and making the dream of homeownership an untenable one for “real” Vancouverites.
But what makes a real Vancouverite? Whose history is prioritized and lionized? How much longer will wealthy and upper-middle-class white settlers get to couch their racism in displacement woes without interrogating their own complicity in pushing Vancouver to this breaking point? Many of whom don’t give a hoot about the actual emergency—a shrinking rental market and zero vacancy—rather than the owning land that doesn’t belong to us anyways.
In Satellite(s), playwright Aaron Bushkowsky skims the surface of these questions, and then refuses to go further. Jan (Jillian Fargey) is a third-generation Vancouverite and writer obsessively documenting all of the multimillion-dollar homes in her neighbourhood that have been bought up by “people like” Cherry (Sharon Crandall), a Beijing-based realtor who drops $5.2 million on the house next door to Jan’s. Cherry installs her 17-year-old son Li (Mason Temple in a standout performance) in the house and Jan, who has no children, is apoplectic. Under the guise of research for her book, Jan even purchases a ticket to fly to Beijing and confronts Cherry about ruining Jan’s Vancouver, also asking what kind of “monster—er, mother” abandons her child. Cherry calls Jan out for her entitlement and hypocrisy, but she also breaks down and Bushkowsky pens a monologue that exults Vancouver as a promised land of greatness compared to China, apparently a land of environmental and political toxicity in which Li would have no future except that of factory worker.
The cast is great, but there are a lot of problematic elements at work in Satellite(s). Though the nest of subplots surrounding cheating—involving Jan’s husband, Andy (Alex Zahara), another realtor named Sandy (Meaghan Chenosky), and Omar (Anousha Alamian), a city official—make for some funny lines and scenes, the play never quite jells. Each of these characters is tasked with trying to extrapolate some deeper meaning from their poor choices. Invariably they all circle back to one thing: loneliness. But it feels like a Deep Meaning Band-Aid rather than a successfully cohesive narrative because it doesn’t address the fact that Cherry and Li are characters steeped in stereotypes. Jan gets called on her behaviour and thoughts a few times, but it’s not enough. Racism is violence, and nonracialized writers need to think carefully about using it as a door through which to explore the “deeper motivations” of white characters.