There is something entirely unique onstage at Performance Works: a mutable, intangible piece, challenging both to actors and audience members alike. The world presented by Satellite(s) is close enough to our own to be instantly relatable, and yet, heightened in a way as to seem very much unreal. The script is thick with poetry ,the playing space is ephemeral, and the strong cast navigate the two with admirable courage.
The play opens with a stunning audio-visual sequence. Gerald King’s lighting design of glowing blues and whites merges seamlessly with Yvan Morissette’s carved cardboard set pieces, and the result is nothing short of marvelous. Into this dreamy landscape wander our six characters, faces illuminated only by phones. A hum starts, untraceable; it swells into a vibratory chant that pours over the stage. “Home…home…home…” Underneath it all, the digitally mysterious chords of Malcolm Dow’s sound design rise to a crescendo, then fade with the voices of the cast.
It is a marvelous opening, instantly compelling. At once, the audience is inside a vision of Vancouver unlike any other; a lonely collection of disconnected people struggling to find their way through a maze of abandoned “monster houses” and empty neighbourhoods. The plot is driven mainly by two central characters: Jan, a passionately protective Vancouverite (Jillian Fargey) and Li, a Chinese teenager (Mason Temple), a “satellite child”, left to occupy a giant house recently purchased by his wealthy mother (Sharon Crandall). Ultimately, the play becomes less about the Vancouver housing crisis, and more about finding a family in a city that has become unfamiliar to its inhabitants.
At one point, Li expounds on his theory of the multiverse; that there are several universes out there, overlapping and coexisting, with subtle, but distinct differences from our own. Playwright Aaron Bushkowsky seems to have set this play in one such universe. The dialogue is dense, complex, and slightly alien, frequently peppered with bizarre and fantastic metaphors, as well as a liberal helping of dry wit. Temple and Fargey are particularly adept at embodying the lines; they take ownership over them, and as a result, the words ring with truth. Meaghan Chenosky also stands out as the squirrel-like realtor embroiled in a love affair with Jan’s husband (Alex Zahara). She teeters precariously on the edge of nervous breakdown, and every word she speaks seems to be wrenched, unbidden and unfiltered, from that place of near hysteria. It’s quite funny.
However, in some respects, the intricacy of the language is almost a detriment. Each scene is so laden with shifts of tension and focus that the actors sometimes seem to be swept along at the mercy of the script. What results are a handful of scenes that are spoken so rapidly that a large chunk of potential emotional weight is lost. There is so much within this play; it’s a shame when some of the characters simply skitter over the surface.
Satellite(s) is profound, but it’s unknown whether its depth can be fully understood, either by a performer or a spectator. What are clear are its themes of loneliness, abandonment, and disconnection. The play knits these concepts like a fog: majestic, impressive, but often impermeable. With that said, the show is the farthest thing from a wash of gray; it is a stylish, creative think piece about what it means to live in a city that is gradually becoming more and more hollow. Satellite(s) may fly over one’s head, but as it does, it soars, shines, and sends a signal of something worth listening to.
Satellite(s) runs November 16-26 at Performance Works on Granville Island. Tickets can be purchased here.
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