When Canadian Playwright Shaul Ezer tackles the Vancouver housing crisis, you expect a certain amount humor, a tongue-in-cheek sideways look at the issue. This play has it, but it came from a whole other place. In a conversation with the concierge at his coal harbor condo, Shaul was challenged to write a play about a concierge. The condition, of course, was that Shaul could use his name in the play. He does and it fits, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
Like most days, I pass through coal harbor on my way downtown, it’s facades of gray, glass and steel are cold, noticeably empty, which should be strange for a Saturday afternoon. It’s strikingly different seen when I get to Granville island where the theater is. It’s alive. Vibrant, filled with people enjoying their weekend. The theater, Studio 1398 is one of Vancouver’s more intimate locations, and as I take my seat for the matinee, I am transported back to Coal Harbour.
This is where art imitates life, imitating art. The house lights go down and the stage lights come up on a small desk with a man in a suit. He answers a phone “Concierge desk…” and then a different phone, but this time, it’s a rental agency, then again a different phone as a charity. I can’t help but laugh as he mentions his name, Al Noseworthy, concierge, rental agent and representative of the Foxworthy Foundation. Actor Art Kitching gives Mr.Noseworthy the perfect presence for a concierge, demure yet warm with a crocodile smile, and in those opening lines firmly establishes the character he’s playing.
The layering of reality to fantasy and back that come in this production is something else, during rehearsals the Property Transfer Tax was introduced as was the Empty Homes Tax. As I sit to watch the story unfold I’m reminded of the news stories about shady real estate brokers and banks that made out like bandits while most people struggled to find a place to sleep. And there they are in the play.
Samantha Wright a banker who may or may not be complicit in a crime is played by Sharon Crandall with the poise you expect to see in any of the Bental Towers. We have Anges Harrington a reporter who is out to break the story of the housing crisis regardless of what it could cost. She is brought to life by Elizabeth Kirkland, her performance falls right in line with the rest of cast and I could swear I’ve seen her character in the newsroom here. Then there is my favorite character, Fred McCashel the ever-chipper PR guy who’s ego and ambition are unchecked by the world around him. The whole cast shines and you can see the light touch needed to make it happen from Director Ian Farthing.
Back to the story, The Concierge of Vancouver gives us a frame around which to view this very real and timely issue. There are no clear lines on what is right or wrong, no preachy positions taken and most heartwarmingly the play keeps the humanity of all sides intact. The characters go through their transformations and we see a resolution that I can only hope that life will imitate. The one exception is Fred, he stays the same and it’s perfect. Stay gold Fred, stay gold. When the house lights come back up I feel a bit closer to the city, passing back through Coal Harbour I can’t help but wonder what high jinx are going on in those few lit windows.
The Concierge of Vancouver is running from October 7-16th at Studio 1398. This is a play you don’t want to miss.