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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Theatre review: Viva weaves two extraordinary stories

Scott Button’s new play gives hope at an intersection of humanity

Given the recent horrific events in Las Vegas, it is admittedly difficult to write about Scott Button’s new play Viva, a show that uses the desert city as its backdrop. Fortunately, like real-life, it is also filled with hope.

Viva follows two strangers whose lives become inextricably linked over the course of one night in Las Vegas. Alice has come to the city in a desperate attempt to save her dying brother, while Graeme’s desire for a lost weekend reunites him with someone from his past.

Told in what the playwright has described as a “lyrical duologue”, Viva plays out as both thriller and more heady exploration of the connections which ultimately make us human. It is in this second form where Viva transcends, giving hope during what are sometimes extraordinary circumstances.

The parallels to the tragedy which unfolded on the Vegas strip just two weeks ago are perhaps not as tenuous as we might believe. While this observation is in no way intended to diminish the horrifying events resulting in death and injury, it is impossible not to view Viva from this particular lens at the moment. Where stories of heroism and humanity have emerged in real-life, this tale of two people thrown together in unexpected circumstances also serves to define who we are, or who we choose to be.

On a bare stage, save two chairs and some rope lighting, Melanie Reich and Patrick Dodd not only play Alice and Graeme, but also shift to the other characters they encounter along the way. The revelations come gradually, and there is something really satisfying in how Button allows his characters to provide both internal dialogue and to narrate the external.

While both actors capture their primary and other characters with ease, it is Dodd who shines here. With a genuine transformation taking place, Dodd moves from a drug-addled young man looking for a good time, to the sobering and devastating reality of his past.

Not to take away anything from Reich’s performance, which is terrific, it is largely the playwright’s construction of the two separate stories which allows Dodd’s Graeme to feel more real.

In Alice’s story, the playwright allows circumstances to fall too far into the thriller genre. As Alice is forced to pursue her brother’s salvation, there is a disconnection in the last fifteen minutes which counteracts what we have experienced to this point. One can’t help but think the playwright could have benefited by looking to his conclusion for Graeme’s story as a key to Alice’s.

Ironically for two characters whose stories are woven together, the two largely play on separate sides of the stage. But under Tanya Mathivanan’s direction it works beautifully as a metaphor for the isolation each feels, making their ultimate connection more real.

In the hyper-realistic world of Vegas, Viva proves once again it is indeed a place where anything can happen.

Viva by Scott Button. Directed by Tanya Mathivanan. An Aenigma Theatre and Bright Young Theatre production. On stage at the Havana Theatre (1212 Commercial Drive, Vancouver) until October 22. Visit for tickets and information.

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