Thursday, November 20, 2008

Four Course Meal

My review of Four Course Meal appears in this week's WE.
Ryan Hauser (left)and Sebastien Archibald  in Four Course Meal.

Ryan Hauser (left)and Sebastien Archibald in Four Course Meal.

Credit: Supplied

Four Course Meal
By Andrea Warner

ITSAZOO Productions, a Victoria-based non-profit theatre company, has a reputation for presenting innovative theatre in wildly inventive settings. The group made its Vancouver debut this past summer with Grimm Tales, which turned Queen Elizabeth Park into the secret enclave of fairytale characters with more problems than an entire season of Jerry Springer rejects. The company’s youthfulness (the founders are a few fresh-from-UVic-theatre grads) makes its accomplishments all the more rewarding.

Four Course Meal, the company’s second offering of its first full season in Vancouver, incorporates four one-act plays, all of them written by a variety of new voices. The evening starts off on a tasty note with the quaint fairytale, Milmish. The titular character is part frog, part human, whose parents disagree about how best to socialize her in the “new world,” where most children are perfect, conceived through the “miracle” of mail-ordered gene-selection. The cast is funny and sweet, and Colby Wilson’s particularly hilarious turn as the professor is not to be missed.

Baggage, the second piece, is at turns brilliant and vulgar, but it’s the most nuanced and accomplished of the four. Written and directed by Sebastien Archibald (writer of Grimm Tales), it depicts the entirety of an imagined relationship between two people who have just met, plus all of the hang-ups, insecurities, and, well, baggage that have brought them to this point. It’s hilarious and heartbreaking.

The second half, unfortunately, falls flatter than a soufflé cooked in the midst of a demolition derby. Indiana Jones and the Wannabe Nemeses is a one-man show that strives to be meaningful, deep, and funny, but comes off as bitter, manipulative, and boring. Five Red Balloons fares better, but its high-concept meditation on the inherent evil of man feels more emo than avant-garde. The cast is great, but overall, the piece never resonates as loudly as its writer clearly wishes it would.

Ultimately, Four Course Meal isn’t quite ready to serve as is. But, given the lively sparkle of the first half of the evening, this might be an exercise in restraint: the company offers a lower admission fee if you want to see just the first two acts. Practice quality over quantity and get your dessert somewhere else.

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