Arts Club Theatre Company
The Shoplifters by Morris Panych

Dates and Venue February 7–March 9, 2019 Mon – Thu at 7:30pm, Fri & Sat at 8pm, Wed at 1:30pm, and Sat at 2pm | Granville Island Stage

Director Morris Panych Set and Cotume Design Ken MacDonald Lighting Design Alan Brodie Sound Designer Ace Martens Fight Director Mike Kovac Stage Manager Caryn Fehr

Reviewer John Jane

Alma and Phyllis like to go shopping, particularly, when they are able to dispense with the inconvenience of paying for the stuff. Alma is a canny veteran at collecting ‘full discount’ on her shopping list, while Phyllis is somewhat of a nervous neophyte.

The premise in Morris Panych's new comedy The Shoplifters puts forward a blurred moral middle ground that urges us to think circumstances can change things. Panych's play never suggests that theft, even petty theft is anything other than wrong, but asks the audience to consider a distinction between stealing for survival and stealing out of greed.

The play begins moments after Alma and Phyllis (Patti Allan and Agnes Tong) have been caught sneaking out of the supermarket with what they mistakenly considered ‘free’ groceries. Alma has crossed a moral line in stealing expensive steaks cut expressly for her. Otto and Dom (Dean Paul Gibson and Raugi Yu) a pair of rent-a-cops who provide security at the grocery chain have apprehended the “customers” on suspicion of pilfering the pricey meat.

Dom, dressed in a uniform comical a couple of sizes too large, is having his first day on the job and wants to make a name for himself. It quickly becomes apparent that Otto, a jaded thirty-year veteran security guard sees things much differently from his officious younger partner.

Patti Allan gets most of the play’s best lines, steals all the scenes she is in and makes her character look like the smartest person on the stage. Agnes Tong is infectious as Alma’s winsome sidekick Phyllis who shows off her penchant for physical comedy. Dean Paul Gibson and Raugi Yu are perfect foils for each other. Yu also offers an excellent foil for the equally neurotic Phyllis, whom he attempts to convert to his own level of righteousness. Gibson’s character is perhaps the most complex. His sentiment straddles the fence between right and wrong and he has lost his conviction in the job he is doing.

Set Designer Ken MacDonald’s eye-catching stock room is where all the action takes place. Randomly stacked cardboard boxes extend up to the ceiling. Some of the boxes don’t appear to be supported by anything below them. The only gap accommodates an opening for a single door into the retail area of a supermarket.

As with many of Morris Panych's plays, The Shoplifters offers the audience a slice of real life with moral ambiguity. Just like his play’s most sympathetic character relates "Grey is everything that isn't black or white.”

© 2019 John Jane