Darby Steeves and Luke Sykes Credit: George Lawson Photography
Darby Steeves and Luke Sykes
Credit: George Lawson Photography

Downtown Vancouver. Location revealed when tickets are purchased.
Tuesdays and Fridays at 8PM until September 30, 2016

Posted June 29, 2016

There’s not a whole lot that’s surreal about Surreal but there are a couple of things: Tom (Luke Sykes), the so-called ‘nerdy’ male character in this romantic two-hander, is so Armani-advertisement handsome that it’s surreal to think he’s having a hard time getting a girl. Also a little surreal was the ongoing pealing of bells from Holy Rosary Cathedral that resulted in a last minute shift on opening night from the planned starting point of the play from one downtown corner to another nearby corner.

Created by Nick Steeves and his sister, actor Darby Steeves, Surreal takes you on foot through the back alleys of Gastown where the smells range from urine-stinking doorways to mouth-watering aromas coming from restaurants and bars, and through lanes with abandoned chesterfields and the stumbling, sorry down-and-outs. It’s about a one kilometer, leisurely walk on level ground that takes about an hour.

We first meet Charlie (Darby Steeves), wearing very short but tasteful burgundy, eyelet trimmed shorts and a flowing shawl, waiting for her boyfriend Ben. It’s their 4th anniversary and a restaurant reservation awaits. He’s late.

Tom turns up unexpectedly. Tom and Charlie were childhood neighbours and best friends before drifting apart in high school. They haven’t seen each other for years and both are at a crossroad in their life.

Luke Sykes and Darby Steeves Credit: George Lawson Photography
Luke Sykes and Darby Steeves
Credit: George Lawson Photography

No surprise, Ben fails to show and Tom, Charlie and the rest of us take a walk because Charlie is “afraid to be alone right now”.

It was kind of fun following these two but I think the original concept anticipated more active audience participation in their conversation. How that would have worked, I’m not sure. It certainly would have taken a lot longer if the characters got caught up in talking to the audience and asking for advice. Tom has recently interviewed for a job he really wants and twice his prospective boss texts him with a riddle to be solved. Really? Anyway, he asks Charlie and Charlie asks us. But, more or less, the two dozen or so of us were passive spectators in Tom and Charlie’s story.

And their story could have taken place anywhere. The walk was fun but Surreal is not ‘site-specific’ in any meaningful way: the locale was irrelevant. It could have been in a bar or on a park bench. It did not need Gastown the way, say, Other Freds needed False Creek or Quasimodo needed the Burrard Bridge.

There are times when plays make me feel so out of it. Surreal is one of those. Charlie has been through a few breakups with men she’s met through online dating services. What happened to meeting someone in a coffee bar, the library, on the chairlift, the gym or at a concert? But an after show conversation with a new, young critic clued me in: it’s quicker, preferences are dealt with even before you meet, rejection isn’t so personal – it’s the way it’s done these days. Hmm. Well, it’s the way I go about finding a new dog. I suppose it’s the same.

There is one good surprise in Surreal. Lulled into an ‘okay, whatever’ reaction to Charlie and Tom’s relationship, you are forced to make a decision. More of that could have and would have made Surreal more participatory and engaging.

Thinking way back to Haunted House Hamlet in Heritage Hall, the audience had to make decision-after-decision. The show was definitely site-specific – it needed an old, rambling house with lots of rooms – and the audience had to be a part of the action.

If Surreal is hoping for more audience engagement, it will have to provide more opportunities and those opportunities will have to feel both necessary and real.

Luke Sykes and Darby Steeves Credit: George Lawson Photography
Luke Sykes and Darby Steeves
Credit: George Lawson Photography