Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Dissemblers

My review of The Dissemblers appears in this week's Westender.

The Dissemblers
By Andrea Warner

Vancouver's well-documented obsession with façade and pretense is the perfect fodder for biting satire. Populated with vividly recognizable and not entirely likeable characters, playwright Jason Bryden's The Dissemblers is a snapshot of early-thirties disaffection and existential crisis, or the moments lived out between Starbucks and stoplights.

Dash (John Murphy), a self-involved artist with an unfortunate obsession with crows, juggles an uptight fiancée, Mi Mi (Medina Hahn), and a sexy flirtation with his tart-tongued gallery manager, Olivia (Sasa Brown). He's also trying to keep his friendship together with best friend Simon (Michael Rinaldi), who's in love with the weirdly spacy Jules (Jennifer Mawhinney). As the relationships unravel amidst a dinner party, bird genocide, and planning a gallery exhibit in China, each character is forced to examine how truth and happiness are interlinked.

Murphy is at his best opposite Brown and the dialogue between Dash and Olivia crackles with clever sexuality. Michael Rinaldi's Simon deservedly gets the majority of the play's laughs as an over-the-top realtor with a faux-hawk: "It's Coquitlam, it's the new inner-city," he says while trying to sell Olivia a condo. Unfortunately, Hahn and Mawhinney are hampered by roles that don't feel fully fleshed out, a crucial area where The Dissemblers doesn't come together. A startling left turn in the script's final 20 minutes feels too abrupt, as if it's part of an entirely different production, or worse, just there for shock value.

A thoroughly Vancouver-centric work (references to local haunts like Keno's, the crow migrations at dusk to Burnaby, the East Side Culture Crawl), The Dissemblers has captured the city's curious cultural tics with just the right amount of rueful affection. Bryden's debut falters at times, but ultimately heralds a welcome new voice in Canadian theatre.

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