Finding due north on the Moral Compass in America isn’t easy these days. Wall Street gets bailed out while honest, hardworking people lose their livelihoods. Success and fulfillment seem to lie on two different paths. The ability to move and restart life over again dissolves community. The ambiguous and difficult situations, along with timeless ones such as friendship and loyalty, art and truth are at the heart of Alena Smith’s penetrative play The Bad Guys.
Uneasy step-brothers 30-year-old Noah (Ezra Fama de Smit) and Fink (Ian Geldart) meet at their childhood home in upstate New York. Noah is leaving for California to promote his new buzz film, accompanied by his lead actor Paul (Scott Humphrey). Fink drives up from his job on Wall Street to welcome his soul-mate Ash back from rehab. Fink is unaware that Noah’s new film is about Ash’s past as a junkie and an alleged murderer. Redneck neighbour and local drug dealer Jesse (Adam Alberts) and college-friend-turned-Marine Whit (Kareem Tristan Alleyne) show up, increasing tensions between the brothers.
The Mainline Theatre’s artists in residence Collective Productions do a fine job with this dense material. It starts light and the banter of songs, quotes, jabs, and bullying sounds natural. Great lines like “Your epiphany was a motivational cat poster” and “I’m a movie star; where’s the booze?” are delivered with comedic precision. The expressions of the characters as they react, their gestures and tone, conveys the complexity of their characters as well as their strained relationships. Collective Productions worked well together as an ensemble that captures the changing demands on men today.
It’s hard not to enjoy the swollen references to theatre and music that pepper every scene. Lady Gaga would be pleased to see the Marines using her dance moves. Jesse sings “Isn’t it ironic?” in a way that would make Alanis Morisette proud. There’s a reference to Chekov’s The Seagull and I thought often of standards like The Odd Couple and Waiting for Godot. The play also addresses contemporary issues such as the financial crisis of Wall Street.
Another thing I liked — or wanted to like — is that a good deal of the play relies on the things we don’t see. Namely, characters Ash, Charlie, and Annie are only discussed and Paul delivers a monologue describing actions in the way a messenger in a Greek tragedy might. Unfortunately, there’s something a little absent around these figures, and I don’t just mean a lack of physical presence. There is a superfluity to parts of the play. Annie, for example, drives the story between Noah and Whit, but her impact on them is woefully underdeveloped. However amusing, Paul is an actor and gay bartender who likes getting high… and that’s about it. If he is intended as the living embodiment of the junkie Ash, Smith should have done far more to convey this other than to remark once on the physical similarities.
That said, Collective Productions works hard to give the characters and their relationships enough depth to overcome the flaws of this play. They create believable men who clash and in doing so, I could focus on the more profound questions of the play such as how one rewrites the past, and what to do when loyalty and doing the right thing conflict.
The Bad Guys plays at the Mainline Theatre (3997 St. Laurent) until Feburary 1. 8 p.m. $14/12.