At The Cultch
No more performances
Posted June 2, 2015
Despair, it’s been said, is the worst sin. It trumps gluttony, greed and coveting your neighbour’s wife or his ass, hands down. In Adam Lazarus and Guillermo Verdecchia’s play, Elvis is despairing: it’s okay, he says, for corporations to poison the drinking water of a whole community (and get away with it), it’s okay for the mayor of major Canadian city to lie and to use crack cocaine (and remain in office) but it’s not okay to harbor racist thoughts. It’s not okay to make jokes about African Canadians, Jews, Asians or homosexuals. Gay men can call themselves ‘queers’ but heterosexuals can’t unless you’re really cool. Jews can – but seldom do – make jokes about the Holocaust but non-Jews can’t or ought not to. (And heaven help you if you suggest offshore Asian money is affecting the Vancouver housing crisis. That’s racist, apparently.)
Elvis, a government employee, is being disciplined for some racial or sexist slur in the workplace and has been sent for weeklong sensitivity training. “Welcome to a complete waste of time”, his inner voice says. But Cam, their “Sherpa” on the group’s journey to sensitivity, inclusivity, “growingness” and more socially acceptable behaviour, tells them that each of them is a “sturdy canoe” and they are going to “lilydip their paddles” to some place of enlightenment. Cam’s pitch is enough to make you sick.
The truth is Cam holds their jobs, their very lives in his hands; he will not only “guide” them, he will “assess” them. Elvis has a wife and a baby. He needs his job. He tries desperately to play the game and go along with Cam who spouts enough inane self-help garbage to sink a canoe. Heck, to sink a nation’s entire navy.
Adam Lazarus plays all the roles including angry, uptight and, yes, intolerant Elvis and more-enlightened-than-thou Cam, Chinese Raura (Laura), white supremacist S. African John, whiny Peter and flamboyant Flora who, when encouraged to share what’s she’s thankful for, responds, “My hair”. Really.
Lazarus is a trained bouffon, a term coined by Jacques Lecoq at his L’École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris. It describes a style of clowning that focuses on the telling of uncomfortable truths.
Lazarus’s body language is brilliant. In one sequence, as each member of the group introduces himself/herself, Lazarus – on the floor – simply twists his body this way and that and becomes Flora or Peter or John. The two main characters – Elvis and Cam – are drawn in amazing detail: Elvis’s hunched shoulders and frown, Cam’s constantly fluttering hands and touchy-feely self-confidence. We know these two people. And we understand Elvis’s despair.
The Art of Building A Bunker is one of those shows that, for some, is hilarious from beginning to end. For others, it’s funny until it isn’t, when it touches nerves that, similar to being at the dentist, we’d rather not have touched.
It’s a bit too long; it meanders. But where it goes is a place we’re familiar with: how do I live in this world? How do I protect those I love? How, when the world appears to be collapsing all around me, do I remain positive? David Suzuki, when asked by a fresh-faced highschool student how he remains positive, replied, “I have grandchildren. I have to remain positive.”
Elvis builds a bunker in his basement. For the rest of us, that bunker is probably just a place in our mind where we go when none of it makes sense anymore – which it increasingly does not. Presented by Upintheair Theatre as part of their rEvolver Festival, The Art of Building A Bunker gave us plenty to think about.