Stage Review: This – entertaining & funny but ultimately forgettable

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While middle age regret is being explored over at the Firehall, the Vancouver Playhouse production of This explores middle age angst, an entertaining, sometimes very funny, but ultimately forgettable look at approaching your forties.

Gathered for a dinner party at Marrell’s (Karen Holness) and Tom’s (Todd Thomson) home, college friends Alan (Dmitry Chepovetsky) and Jane (Megan Follows) are about to participate in an after-dinner game.  Added to the mix is Jean-Pierre (Fabrice Grover), a very French member of Doctor Without Borders who Marrell hopes to pair with Jane.

The game consists of Jane trying to guess the details of a story the rest of the group has supposedly invented while she was out of the room.  As Jane begins guessing however her own story is revealed, ultimately leading to a whole slew of “angsts”: Jane and Tom must deal with their infidelity; Marrell and Tom deal with parenthood and marriage; Alan must deal with his questions about his life’s accomplishments; Jane must finally deal with her husband’s death; and they all must deal with their friendships.

The cast of the Vancouver Playhouse production of Melissa James Gibson's This
The cast of the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company production of Melissa James Gibson’s This.

Each of the actors here handles both the comedic and dramatic aspects of the show very well.  Chepovetsky as the wise-cracking gay friend was definitely a highlight, but even the wittiest (or is that cattiest?) of the gay men I have known over the years could not sustain at the level playwright Melissa James Gibson provides in Alan.

Follows brings much honesty to her character and both Holness and Thomson are not only believable as the couple dealing with the responsibilities of being new parents, all the while, simmering just beneath the surface, is the possibility that their marriage is perhaps void of any real connection.  I was at first off-put by Grover’s Jean-Pierre but once I got over my own cultural bias I found myself wishing he had a bigger role in holding up a mirror to some of the pettiness of the group.

Set designer Alison Green does a nice job with the Marrell and Tom’s small apartment where most of the action takes place, but with other scenes taking place on a second level above the main set piece, it almost felt as if it were an afterthought.

But while indeed entertaining and funny in the moment with a great cast, I found the whole exercise mostly forgettable.  I spent little time wondering what happens next, especially since the playwright doesn’t wrap everything up in a neat little bow for us.

Perhaps I found this particularly perplexing and frustrating as someone dealing with his own middle aged angst (notice I didn’t say crisis).

3 1/2 of 5 Stars This

By Melissa James Gibson.  Directed by Amiel Gladstone. A Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company production.  On stage at the Vancouver Playhouse through January 29, 2011.

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