In theatre, there are comedies, drama, and then there is Shit.
A seeming mishmash of genre and style, Patricia Cornelius’ Shit features some of our city’s finest actors. But while its focus on the under-served is commendable, its undercurrent of seemingly inescapable sexual trauma weakens the victims it presents.
Shit unfurls like a disjointed lotus. Billy (Kayla Doerksen) is a scrapper, Sam (Yoshie Bancroft) a luckless sweetheart, and Bob a dreamer, are incarcerated after a lifetime of shit. Growing up in foster care, the three spend the one hour run time spitting, cajoling, fighting, and fucking with each other. At times cruel, at others sincere, the relationship between the three is what drives the play.
The performances are polished, with Kayla Deorksen’s Billy bearing the brunt of the emotional momentum. While she smirks and skitters across the stage, Yoshie Bancroft’s Sam simpers and swears. But it’s Sharon Crandall as Bob who delivers the most powerful performance as a noble street tough, who dreams of being a man.
The cage-like set design by Conor Moore is evocative, while Kyla Gardiner’s lighting design delivers just the amount of emotional subtlety that you’d want in key moments.
But it is this universal polish that points to the broken legs of the show. Patricia Cornelius’ script does not allow these characters to exist outside their victim-hood, but the skill of the actors is such that you can’t help but note that these are confident, competent humans.
Donna Spencer’s direction gives us actors whose speech is a little too smooth, too precise, too educated for the mouths of these characters. While the script seems to want to have us observe these desperate women trapped in the shit of life, it is the script itself that keeps them down. The first time they speak of sexual assault it shocks and tugs the heart strings. By the eleventh time, it becomes trite.
Shit is a slick production of caricatured people. While the attempt to bring the pain of women struggling through the worst of our society to the stage has merit, and the writing is beautiful, it falls into the trap of believing that victims will be forever defined by their trauma. But when those victims are played three of the most eloquent actors in the city, the show fails to resonate with the reality of its own shit. It is beautiful, but flawed.
Shit by Patricia Cornelius. Directed by Donna Spencer. On stage at the Firehall Arts Centre (280 Cordova Street E, Vancouver) until February 10. Visit http://firehallartscentre.ca for tickets and more information.