by Dorianne Emmerton
The first thing you see when you walk into The Bird at Buddies is a giant stuffed bird. The taxidermied wonder is perched on a coffee table on a set of an expansive living room in what looks like, and we later find out is a chic downtown condo building. While the city is never specified, all references feel very Toronto-esque.I had not read any material on the play before going in. I had no idea what it was about. I knew friends were going and I knew I liked playwright Sonja Mills and director Ruth Madoc-Jones, and that was good enough for me. I rather like to be surprised, so if I’m already sure I want to see it, why find out anything more?
My surprises were definitely pleasant. This is theatre the way I like it: funny, dark and filled with characters a bit too extreme to be realistic but far too familiar to be anything other than credible.
This play is in the “party gone wrong” mode – like Festen but funnier, like Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf but more subtle and modern. As the promo materials say, it’s a “contemporary lesbian drawing-room farce:” the form is classic but the delivery is new. And it works.
Kate (Astrid Van Wieren) and her partner Mia (Lesley Dowey) are hosting a cocktail party for the express purpose of Mia meeting Kate’s new assistant Petty, short for Petula (Anna Chatterton), who she suspects Kate is trying to seduce. When she invites Petty to bring her family she expects a traditional heterosexual nuclear family – a husband and children – not a common-law almost-husband, an aging older brother and his bitter wife.
While the play begins with two-hander scenes with Kate and Mia that give their characters depth right off the bat, at first this whole tribe of guests can seem one-dimensional. Petula is nothing but chipper, her boyfriend Gord (Jimi Shlag) too much like a puppy who can talk, her brother Boo, short for Buddha (Bruce Hunter), too depressive, and his wife Donna (Veronika Hurnik), too uptight and disapproving. But these character types are a setup that lead to incredible comedy, and ultimately some powerful revelations.
Serving as a foil to the madness of the adults is Mia’s little sister, Spencer (Caitlin Morris-Cornfield) who is living with them because she is pregnant. Her age is never specified but if she’s not a teen she’s very early in her 20s, and obviously now single. She’s the person who you could easily point to as having fucked up her life: but maybe, in relation to the other characters, she’s the least fucked up of all.
The politics in the show are not confined to the personal: the global situation is commented on as well, with a cruel parlour game of Banking versus Marketing versus the Oil Industry. There’s both a lot to laugh at and a lot to chew on in this play.
– The Bird by Union Eight Theatre plays until January 30, 2011 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander Street
– Shows are Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2:30pm
– Tickets are $33.00 through www.totix.ca. You can also call Buddies at 416-975-8555 for more information