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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Theatre review: Lowest Common Denominator rises above the ordinary

There may be few surprises in the Zee Zee Theatre production of Lowest Common Denominator, but thanks to some clever writing and terrific performances it rises well beyond the ordinary.

[pullquote]There is a fine balance in Deborah Williams’ performance that teeters wonderfully between the light and dark of her character as easily as she moves between the comedy and the drama of Deveau’s writing.[/pullquote]The advance PR on Vancouver playwright Dave Deveau’s newest work is a bit misleading. Where we are promised an exploration of gay inter-generational relationships, what Deveau gives us instead is a family dramedy about a mother trying to come to terms with her 18-year old son dating a 47-year old man.

To be fair, Deveau does try to tackle some of the issues between the two men, but the vast majority of his focus remains on the mother and her reaction to finding out her son is dating a man old enough to be his father. By spending so much time on that reaction, and however compelling it might be at times, Deveau misses an opportunity to delve  into a deeper examination of what that generational gap might actually mean.

At the heart of this story is the mother Harmony, and as played by Deborah Williams she rises above some of her character’s clichés with skill. There is a fine balance in Williams’ performance that teeters wonderfully between the light and dark of her character as easily as she moves between the comedy and the drama of Deveau’s writing. Williams proves herself a skilled comedic actor once again with an uncanny ability to find the perfect timing in delivering the sometimes laugh-out-loud moments in the piece.

It would come as no surprise to know that Deveau wrote this piece with Williams in mind, but with a lesser actor in the role Lowest Common Denominator could easily become maudlin. There is a scene in act two where Williams plays the pedophile card that is as beautiful to watch as it is cringe inducing. And even as Harmony says things like “something about an umbilical cord and something about right and wrong”, Williams makes us believe in those words.

As the older man Peter, Shawn Macdonald finds the flawed vulnerability in his character. While it was difficult at times to believe his protestations that the relationship was as confusing to him as it was to Harmony given Deveau allows little exploration between the two men, Macdonald is more than a simple foil here. As Harmony goes to extremes in an effort to stop the relationship, there is real pain in Macdonald’s ultimate decision, but one can’t help but think that pain may have gone deeper had Deveau spent more time exploring the relationship.

Dallas Sauer easily captures the teenage aloofness of the young Trevor who is caught between the innocence of childhood and the desires of adulthood, playing a selfishness and petulance on both sides that rings true.

Director Cameron Mackenzie keeps the action moving at a brisk pace, with a first act that is over in a flash. And even though the second act loses some of that momentum, he helps ensure that as the play moves to more dramatic territory it steps away from the precipice of melodrama.

Set designer Marina Szijarto provides three distinct areas that are cohesive in her use natural woods and while she has a relatively small space to work with, it never feels crowded. Whether by design or chance, the fact Trevor doesn’t get to claim one of these areas for himself helps reinforce how he has yet to find his own place in the world.

Despite its predictability and buoyed by its performances, Lowest Common Denominator reinforces Dave Deveau’s status as one of Vancouver’s finest playwrights and one of our country’s finest gay writers. And while many might argue that the second distinction is unnecessary, we need more people like Deveau to tell our stories. With a 2014/2015 Zee Zee Theatre season just announced that includes two new pieces from Deveau, thankfully those stories will continue to be told.

By Dave Deaveau. Directed by Cameron Mackenzie. A Zee Zee Theatre production. Lowest Common Denominator contines at the PAL Studio Theatre through March 30, 2014. Visit for tickets and information.

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