Arts Club Theatre Company and the Belfry Theatre
MUSTARD by Kat Sandler

Dates and Venue
September 20 – October 20, 2018, Mon–Thu at 7:30 PM, Fri & Sat at 8 PM, Wed at 1:30 PM, and Sat at 2 PM | Granville Island Stage.

Director Stephen Drover Set Design Kevin McAllister Lighting Design Alan Brodie Costume Design Carmen Alatorre Sound Design Brian Linds Stage Manager Jan Hodgson

Reviewer John Jane

Mustard is Kat Sandler’s dark comedy that plays out like a children’s story for durable adults. It’s also the name of the main character, a preposterously fanciful friend of Thai, a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl who lives with her single mother. The fact that Mustard spends a large part of the play looking like something between a court jester and a sports franchise mascot seems non-concordant. Thai, an only child, at one time relied on her imaginary friend for companionship. While he is still visible to only her (and of course, the audience), practical problems have replaced her need for an abstract relationship with someone with the mental development of a ten-year-old.

The trouble is – Mustard refuses to accept that he has outlasted his function and will not leave. Simultaneous with Thai’s disengagement from her chum, Mustard makes a connection with Thai’s mom Sadie, who has never moved past her husband Bruce (never seen by the audience) moving out. She has one-sided conversations with him while sitting alone with a bottle of wine. In a moment of stark depression, she suddenly gains the capacity to see her daughter's dreamed-up buddy.

The arrival of a pair of apparitional thugs named Bug and Leslie, ludicrously played by Brett Harris and Shekhar Paleja respectively, take the play to another level of théâtre de l'absurde. Their job is to persuade Mustard to relinquish his cosy situation – forcibly if need be.

Director Stephen Drover maintains a fast pace that sometimes seems chaotic. Kevin McAllister’s bi-level, fittingly detailed and well constructed set of a family living room, also boasts a typical teenager’s bedroom where a lot of “action” takes place and an open window that sees a lot of human traffic passing through. Alan Brodie’s slick lighting separates night and day as well as the real from the surreal.

Andrew McNee gives a definitively muscular and manic performance as the titular Mustard (who would want to be named after a condiment?). Although I did find his antics at times tiresome. UBC Arts graduate Heidi Damayo, who despite being in her early twenties is totally believable as sixteen-year-old Thai. She seems to overwhelm her co-star Chirag Naik who plays her confused boyfriend. Damayo also demonstrates exceptional movement around the stage. Jenny Wasko-Paterson as the battle weary Sadie manages to shift her role away from the usual single-mom prosaism and provides an anchor for the play’s narrative.

The play leaves the audience with ambiguities. Is Mustard a figment of Thai’s imagination or Sadie’s, or perhaps even of Thai’s father Bruce? I heard someone leaving the theatre remark “There was a lot of talent on that stage” – I agree – too bad they didn’t a more suitable vehicle to showcase it.

© 2018 John Jane