Watching Movements 1&2 may very well have you thinking of Eugene Ionesco’s The Leader. While perhaps not quite as absurd as Ionesco’s play about the blind adulation of political leaders, Vancouver playwright James Gordon King’s newest work explores similar themes.
Taking place inside an old storefront in East Vancouver, we are welcomed into the home of Olivia and Jeremy. The living room and kitchen floor are covered in sand/gravel, although it remained unclear whether this was the original state of the venue, or if it was specially created for the play. Regardless, it adds a grittiness to the proceedings, perhaps a literal nod to grassroots movements. It is this personal space though that makes the most sense here, a recognition that many of the world’s greatest movements can be born from the ordinary.
Olivia and Jeremy are looking to start a movement. Don’t call it a political or social movement though because that isn’t the point. In fact King goes out of his way to ensure the real nature of the movement never really comes into focus. Instead, like Ionesco’s The Leader, this becomes a treatise on how blindly some will follow.
Unfortunately though, as the de facto leader, Naomi Vogt’s Olivia doesn’t have quite enough charisma to make it believable. That through the course of the sixty minutes there could be thousand followers of this unnamed movement never quite rings true. While Vogt creates a wonderful empathy, there is little to suggest that she has the magnetism to bring together a group without a real purpose.
In our recent interview with the playwright, King asserts that movements like Occupy and Idle No More are often criticized because they do not have concrete end goals. While that might be true, they at least had a starting point. In Movements 1&2 though, there is no catalyst to rally the masses, and it falls solely upon a single person’s ability to inspire.
Where Movements 1&2 is most successful is in the exploration of how movements can be co-opted. Internal politics, a diverging uniting purpose, and even the human foibles of jealousy and self-doubt are examined. As Olivia’s partner Jeremy, a grounded Nathan Barrett, pushes her to declare a clear manifesto, she begins to resent him. As that resentment grows she conjures Rahul, played by a mischievous and somewhat malevolent Nadeem Phillip. Rahul becomes her justification in taking Jeremy out of the picture.
In one of the play’s most absurd moments, the road to Jeremy’s ultimate demise begins when Olivia/Vogt calls for a break in the action – there are a number of direct and indirect addresses to the audience throughout – and the trio dance to the tune of Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”.
Unlike Ionensco’s play where the payoff comes in discovering the leader has no head, the payoff in Movements 1&2 is violence, that is tempered as each character (or was it actor?) taking care of the other’s wounds. Perhaps it is a a suggestion that from the ruins of one movement can come another.
One thing is for sure though, its ending feels an awful lot like a set-up for Movements 3&4.
Movements No. 1&2 plays at 1326 E Georgia St, Vancouver from July 6-16. Tickets are available on Brown Paper Tickets.