There is some compelling work among the three shorts from Vancouver playwright James Gordon King – Fishmann, Seabird is in a Happy Place, and God Will Provide – that are part of Rivulets.
First though, to call Rivulets a “promenade site-specific performance … in a roving and interactive venue” as the advance press proclaims, is a bit of a misnomer. There really is nothing promenade-like as you move a few steps from one area to another separated by large accordion walls that were pulled back to start each play. It was kind of fun, in a sick twisted sort of way that seemed somehow appropriate at first, to watch fellow theater-goers jostle each other for the few chairs with backs instead of the milk cartons that also served as seating, but that is about as interactive as the evening got.
As the name Rivulets suggests, the three plays all have some connection to water, but it is in further describing them as “three short plays about a flood” that helps bring things into focus, especially in the third piece. Rather than water as a cleansing and renewing element however, playwright King turns that metaphor on its head; this is not the floods of Noah that washed away the evils of the world to begin anew, these are the sad and sobering realities of a not-so-distant future.
First up was Fishmann, a post-apocalyptic one-hander about a future where the main source of food is now humans, a time when twenty pounds of flesh can get you a gallon of fuel. Played with finesse by Aryo Khakpour, there is an eerie nonchalant manner to his delivery at times that makes the play’s content that much more disturbing. Director Marie Farsi embellishes the text with light and sound, but Khakpour didn’t need the bells and whistles. It was the most successful of the three, based on Khakpour’s performance alone.
The second in the trio is King’s Seabird is in a Happy Place, the story of a young woman who claims to have died and come back to life under the condition that she die once again as soon as the rain stops.
Seabird is no doubt the impetus for Rivulets as it has been chosen to participate at The Samuel French Off Off Broadway Short Play Festival in New York City in August. One of thirty finalists who will see a professional mounting of their play, six plays will be chosen by a panel of judges and will see their play published and licensed by Samuel French, one of the world’s leading play publishers.
This metaphysical trip through life and death, performed with sexy ease by Emilie Leclerc, was a bit of an enigma. In describing the work in a Q&A with Samuel French for the festival, King says that “a lot of the world lives on ambiguity”, and it shows. Perhaps it was in combination with the distracting heat of the venue, but there were chunks of this play that didn’t quite resonate. Still, written at a time when the playwright was in love, that emotion comes through as Seabird tells of her encounter with Hannah, and the play is most successful as it forces us to ask ourselves what we would do if given a second chance.
The final, and shortest of the three is God Will Provide, a political charged treatise on how the inaction of preceding generations has resulted in where we are today. Ambiguous as to what actually led to the recriminating encounter between father (Alec Willows) and daughter (Lucy McNulty), it isn’t a stretch to imagine a world destroyed by that inaction. As the daughter accuses her father of not doing enough in his lifetime, she doesn’t become part of any solution herself, but instead only looks to punish him. While an interesting argument that we will sometimes only react when the things we hold most dear are at risk, it also highlights the ongoing debate about culpability. King would have been more successful though had he expanded and explored both sides of the coin, rather than simply giving up.
Shorts are always a risky endeavour as there is little time to fully develop characters and plot, but there is a somber reality to each of the three presented as part of Rivulets. As Vancouver continues through one of its driest summers on record, that irony is not lost.
King is working on his first full-length play The Living Situation slated to be produced in January 2016, and based on these three shorts it holds great promise. In the meantime, best of luck at the Samuel French festival in August.
Rivulets: 3 Short Plays About a Flood (Fishmann, Seabird is in a Happy Place, and God Will Provide). Written by James Gordon King. Directed by Marie Farsi. A Babelle Theatre production. On stage at Lone Pine Publishing (87 East Pender St, Vancouver) until July 19. Visit Brown Paper Tickets for tickets more and information.