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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Theatre review: The Full Light of Day is a wonder of design

A monumental design and some rock-solid performances are built upon a sometimes-rickety foundation in this story about crazy rich white people

Rarely ones to do things in small measure, the Electric Company Theatre have taken up residence at the Vancouver Playhouse with The Full Light of Day, a lavish production that solidifies itself once again as one of our city’s most innovative theatre companies. But while this theatre-film hybrid looks like a million bucks, it never quite resonates on an emotional level.

With Vancouver’s hot-button real estate at the centre of its story, The Full Light of Day delves into questions of what it means to live a good life, our need for legacy, and a lack of compassion that can permeate our capitalistic lifestyles. Problem is though, these meaty questions are largely playing second-fiddle to this show’s massive design.

Combining the aesthetic of film with live action on stage, The Full Light of Day is a technological masterpiece. The liberal use of technology also serves to mirror our social-media focused society, which oftentimes is more concerned by appearance than substance.

Live action cameras allow large scale close-ups of the cast projected on Julie Fox’s formidable set; filmed sequences from Brian Johnston provide land, water and city -scapes as backdrops; Peter Allen’s original compositions provide a cinematic soundtrack with the help of sound designer Brian Linds; even a full-size car appears on stage and “travels” down highways, city streets and country roads.

Playwright Daniel Brooks also manipulates the structure of his play with tremendous results. No secret given he wrote it as a screenplay, he plays with timelines in an excitingly fresh and cinematic way, presenting a number of repeated scenes from more than one character’s perspective.

Dean Paul Gibson and the ensemble of The Full Light of Day - photo by Don Lee
Dean Paul Gibson and the ensemble of The Full Light of Day. Photo by Don Lee.

But while the look and structure are impressive, and worthy of any Broadway blockbuster, much of the humanity in Daniel Brooks’ story never quite achieves the same success. Instead, Brooks has assembled a group of characters for who we don’t care what happens.

Often lost against the show’s sensory overload, there is a surprising lack of connection to its characters. Act one gets bogged down in rich people behaving boorishly. While small glimpses of morality find their way into the narrative, it isn’t until its very end where we see there is a potential for change on the horizon.

Brooks does himself no favours in this regard either by under utilizing daughter Jane (Jenny Young), who all but disappears after a brief scene in act one, only to be resurrected in act two as a plot device. In fact, when Jane re-appears in act two it takes a moment to remember who she is.

Act two fares better as matriarch Mary grows ill. In a magnificent performance by Gabrielle Rose, her pain is as real as the realization that her family’s wealth has been amassed by more than good fortune and hard work.

Under Kim Collier’s direction, the entire ensemble is at the top of its game, which comes as no big surprise given some of the heavyweights she has assembled.

As daughter-in-law Sherry, Jillian Fargey finds a delicate balance as the privileged wife, whose indifference to what is happening is beautifully softened as guides Mary to her end. Dean Paul Gibson is suitably boorish, and while it is difficult to feel empathy for his loss, Jim Mezon is solidly unsympathetic. Jonathon Young is manic as youngest son Joey, bent on exposing the family secrets. As the heavy in the piece though, John Ng doesn’t quite find the strength necessary in his character.

As with previous Electric Company Theatre productions, and indeed other projects from director Kim Collier, in which the technology has played a large part, the theatrical experience from viewing The Full Light of Day is like no other. You may wish though, like me, that there was a little more humanity among all its glitz.

The Full Light of Day by Daniel Brooks. Directed by Kim Collier. An Electric Company Theatre production in association with Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, and BMO. On stage at the Vancouver Playhouse (600 Hamilton St, Vancouver) until January 12. Visit for tickets and information.

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