Naomi Vogt brings younger sister Deborah’s words to life with an easy charm and warm honesty that fully engages the audience. And she’s not averse to adding words of her own.
Indeed, that is the format of BIG Sister – a sort of half-improvised, half-memoir of the relationship between two siblings – one big, the other small. One with a huge, outgoing personality and the other, more introverted and “normal.”
Both characters have their vulnerable, as well as their dominant sides. Both can evoke empathy and sympathy, and both can behave like brats.
The development of their relationship from young childhood to adulthood is as intriguing and entertaining as Naomi’s development from overweight to slender. Now long-limbed and handsome, she shares the news that the process of shedding a substantial number of kilos has been, and continues to be a struggle. At the beginning of her one-woman show, she invites comments on her appearance. There she stands, upright and proud, demanding that the audience look at her. She orchestrates responses when she asks for comments – a brave opening to any show.
Unlike at the play’s premiere at the 2018 Fringe, Naomi’s younger sister, “Deb”, is not present in the audience. Instead of the dialogue between the two, conducted through the fourth wall, Naomi asks members of the audience to participate.
In one instance, she reads a letter that Deborah has sent from England, where she is currently living. In it, Deb asks Naomi to find “the hottest man in the audience” to read the next letter that she’s written.
During several similar instances, the ongoing relationship between the two siblings creates humour and insights via a red mailbox.
Unfortunately, some audience members can be difficult to hear when they read, even in a space as intimate as the Culture Lab. It might serve the play better if the readers were planted or are at least encouraged to speak up.
The question the play poses is one that is relevant today when physical appearance is so front and centre: how much does the amount of time, money and worry about how we look impact our lives and personalities?
There are times when, during the performance, Naomi almost yearns for her old self and that old self’s relationship with her petite, less ‘out-there’ sister. Tears sometimes appear when a certain memory is prompted or perhaps when a realization of some aspect of life is revealed through this very public journey of discovery.
The pink set, created by Magnolia Cairns, matches Naomi’s T-shirt and bright persona. It also offers the actor opportunities to inhabit several different spaces where certain remembrances, revelations and comments can be shared. However, sometimes Naomi’s energetic leaps from level to level appear to happen for no reason other than to take the eye to a new location. Her material is strong enough, and her ready wit and comfort onstage are sufficient to allow her to be still more often. Stillness might make some of her missed ad-libs more audible too.
At the end, Vogt asks for comments and questions. One unasked question on the first night was, “Are you happier now?” She says people listen to her views more, laugh louder and longer at her jokes, and dating is a new and enjoyable experience. But is she happier?
BIG Sister by Deborah Vogt. Directed by Jamie King. A Rapid Pitch Productions presented by The Cultch. On stage at The Cultch’s Culture Lab (1895 Venables St, Vancouver) until February 29. Visit thecultch.com for tickets and information.