For its second outing in their 2019-2020 season, Vancouver’s Vagrant Players Theatre Society presents the world premiere of Pot Kettle Black, the newest work from local playwright Bill Marchant.
Set in Oakville, Ontario, in the late 1990s, Marchant’s darkly comic tale is the story of three suburban couples who gather to celebrate a birthday. “The booze has been flowing, and the truth spills as freely as the liquor,” explains the playwright. “Together, they strive to unveil the true meaning of love. Our seekers are ultimately at odds, and things go quickly and terribly awry with surprising, hilarious and even shocking results.”
Marchant’s first new play on a stage in some time, Pot Kettle Black, has been a decade in the making, requiring dozens of drafts to hit the right satirical tone. “I wanted to have enough realism to ground the play in a certain truth but for it also to have enough irreverence and absurdity to mine the comic depths that this scenario presents,” he says.
By ensuring the right mix, Marchant says the play will hold a mirror to many who see it. “Albeit a very murky and clouded mirror,” he says. “Like a Rorschach test, you will see what you want to see. At our best and worst, we can be grotesque creatures. I wanted to capture the humour and the horror of our labours of love.”
Directing his new play for Vagrant Players is Marchant’s husband, Matt Fentiman.
The first person to read Pot Kettle Black, he was the only person Marchant trusted with his play. “In the wrong hands, this might be turgid melodrama or over-the-top, off-kilter foolishness,” he says. “I trust that in Matt’s capable hands, the comedy and spirit of the play will really ring out. He also gets me and what is that I might be trying to accomplish with my work.”
While Marchant says he will join the rehearsal process closer to the production for a “bit of final spit and polish,” for now, he is using a more subtle approach. “I whisper into his ear while he’s sleeping. We will see if that has any effect.”
Playing the instigator and no-nonsense Alex, one of the six friends in the play, for Vancouver actor David Lennon the biggest challenge for him has been in tackling Marchant’s text.
“The play is basically one big scene with six characters all talking rapid-fire almost on top of each other, so tackling the dialogue was daunting,” he says.” It’s been a really fun challenge. In a way, that’s also my favourite part, getting to play with this beautiful script with Matt and the rest of our amazing cast.”
It isn’t the first time Lennon and director Matt Fentiman have crossed paths though, having studied under Fentiman at Vancouver Film School. “He taught me over ten years ago, and I’ve wanted to work with him ever since,” says Lennon. “He’s always been such a warm and welcoming person to me. His energy really makes me feel safe to take risks as an actor.”
While both Marchant and Lennon admit Pot Kettle Black is a very dark story, they also hope audiences find the play’s humour, and it has a lasting effect as they leave the theatre.
“I hope they laugh. At the show. At themselves. At me. At it all,” says Marchant. “We all take ourselves far too seriously and somehow not nearly seriously enough. That’s the fine line of our mad days on this planet. Walking that line with us is all I’d hope for any audience. If not, I have so many blank pages to fill; I’ll get it right one of these times.”
“I hope it sticks with them afterwards; that they find themselves thinking about it long after they’ve seen it,” adds Lennon. “Those are always the most rewarding experiences for me as an audience member.”
Pot Kettle Black plays the PAL Studio Theatre (581 Cardero St, Vancouver) February 21-29. Tickets are available online at Brown Paper Tickets. Audience advisory: Pot Kettle Black contains sexual situations and coarse language and is recommended for mature audiences.