Since ITSAZOO Productions’ Vancouver debut two years ago, the young theatre company (helmed by co-artistic directors Sebastien Archibald, Colby Wilson, and Chelsea Haberlin) has been responsible for some of the city’s most consistently entertaining and thought-provoking original works. It’s also created a variety of stages from a slew of unusual spots: Queen Elizabeth Park, a bench at Second Beach, and now two levels of a nondescript parking garage on the fringes of the city’s financial district.
Formerly based in Victoria, ITSAZOO is the collective mastermind behind Bridge Mix, a showcase that boasts eight plays performed in 12 scenes from a variety of innovative, emerging theatre and dance companies. Like other, more established site-specific theatre installations (the HIVE series, Tremors), Bridge Mix is an ambitious assortment of short vignettes. While some are more successful than others, the overall result is nothing short of fantastic.
ITSAZOO’s own Hey Good Lookin’ kicks things off in wondrously random and creepy fashion with two drunken corporate types (Wilson and Archibald) inciting the fury of a clown after stomping on a stray red balloon. Genus Theatre’s Done by Dinner is a raucous experiment in audience participation, with everyone taking part in a street hockey game that’s frequently interrupted by a car and its angry driver. TigerMilk Collective achieves a nearly impossible feat with Both Are Me, whose quiet ambiance transcends the inherent ugliness of a concrete parking structure.
Upintheair Theatre Society’s Borborygmi also transforms the venue by utilizing the parking lot in a surprising, innovative way — one that I won’t spoil here, except to say its humour masks a darker social message in clever fashion. Peter n’ Chris’ The Ballad of Jeff is also a comedy doubling as commentary, with two great performances as a desperate journalist seeks to exploit the misfortunes of an eccentric vagrant.
The gem of the collection, however, is SNAFU’s NOGGIN, a charming one-woman number about a precocious little girl who believes she can collect and interpret people’s dreams.
The other plays aren’t lesser in quality, but feel slightly out of sync with what else is on offer. Slam Ink’s Coincidence Partnerships Parts I-IV revels in a couple’s unfortunate date — as members of the audience! Unfortunately, the male character is written in such a way that it’s hard to believe any woman, sane or not, would want to date him. Spectral Theatre’s Eastside Ghosts, a painfully vivid and gut-wrenching imagining of William Pickton’s reign of terror over sex workers on the Downtown Eastside, is a jarring slap in the face set amidst lighter fare. And, Enlightenment Theatre’s A Situation is pleasantly absurd, but the plot — a fight between two guys from Surrey, one an artist and one a finance professional — feels more like a work-in-progress than a finished piece.
Taken as a sampling of emerging theatre companies, Bridge Mix is evidence of Vancouver’s overwhelming raw talent and ITSAZOO’s continually surprising artistic vision. —Andrea Warner
Bridge Mix runs to May 15 at the parkade located at 1070 W. Pender, 8pm. Tickets $14-$18 from Itsazoo.org