The 21st Floor by Michèle Lonsdale Smith

Dates and Venue 11 - 22 November 2008, 8pm | The PAL Theatre, 581 Cardero Street

Directors Michèle Lonsdale Smith Set Design & LightingYvan Morrisette Sound Rylan Kerbes

Reviewer John Jane

If this is eco-density, I’ll stick with the suburbs. The 21st Floor proffers a laconic glimpse into the empty lives of nine condo dwellers on the penthouse floor of a high-rise condominium building. Set in Vancouver in more or less present time, the play has no real beginning or end but probes into the personality disorders of a diverse bunch of misfits for an approximately 12-hour period and attempts to examine their (lack of) social interaction.

Writer and artistic director Michèle Lonsdale Smith, seen earlier this fall in a ‘small but pivitol role’ in the Artsclub production Doubt, presents an engaging character study when people are too well insulated from each other. The fictitious building is not identified but could be any one of the fashionable high-rises in the vicinity of Performing Arts Lodge theatre in Coal Harbour.

The set cleverly features a row of eight individual apartments (2102 – 2109), each of which partially concealed behind a numbered glass door, so,it is difficult to observe the entire stage from any one seat in the theatre. The space is interesting though, in as much that it’s set up in front of floor-to-ceiling windows, affording the audience with the extra dimension of a background 8th floor view of adjacent apartment buildings.

In apartment #2102, Craig (Stephen Park) is a pirate broadcaster, blogger and political agent provocateur who prefers to avoid the floor’s other occupants. In #2103 at the opposite end of the hall, Kenny (Graem Beddoes) initially comes across as a lovable loser from Alberta, but eventually reveals a darker side to his personality when no one bothers to turn up for his impromptu party.

In between there is Beatrice in #2104; Eliza Norbury gives a quirky performance as a loner who rarely leaves her apartment and spends much of her time gazing out of the window through a telescope. Next door at #2106, Adam and David (Chris Bradford and Ryan Hesp) are a confused gay couple who are at a crisis point in their relationship.

In apartment #2108 we see attractive thirty-something Rachel; self-absorbed and over-sexed; she occasionally allows the guileless Kenny in to apartment for loveless sex. Nadine Wright arguably gives the ensemble’s most complex performance as Rachel.

Dan (Nick Hunnings) in #2109 is the de facto manager. Never without his Bluetooth, Dan wants to be loved, but in fact is loathed by the other occupants of the 21st floor. In #2107 Martin (Anthony Ulc) is an intellectual cynic; once on a fast-track to a promising career as a tenured professor, he is now a penthouse recluse. Finally, in #2105 Alex (Anna Williams) is an egocentric junkie with a bad attitude, who, in reality cannot afford to live in the building, but she stays in her apartment at Dan’s pleasure.

Nadine Wright, Matt Ward and Elyse Levesque make up the rest of a stellar cast; playing peripheral characters, who, while not residents are nonetheless integral to the production.

Players are constantly visible on stage, but the dialogue rarely includes more than two people at any time, so much of the individual action is incidental.

I see this current production as a work in progress with future mountings having more character development, particularly with Kenny who during the opening scenes seemed to be a pivotal character. Perhaps a broader elucidation of what pushed him over the edge.

Never heard the Pink Floyd song, “Comfortably Numb” during the show, but it might have made for a suitable soundtrack – considering the last line of the lyrics - The child is grown, the dream is gone. I have become comfortably numb..

© 2008 John Jane