Barb Popel: “It’s hard for the audience to sympathize with Paul and Lauren’s moral plight and dire financial straits, as they are so selfish, so disconnected from others, and so morally bankrupt… The banality of evil, eh?”
Courtney Merchand: “Little Boxes rides the peaks and valleys of an all too relatable relationship… You’re left silently questioning your own compass as if it were you in the driver’s seat.”
Reviewed by Barb Popel
If you’ve read about Little Boxes in the festival program, you’ll know that a young Canadian couple, Paul and Lauren, are in precarious financial straits, are living in suburbia, and have just hit a young child with their car while driving distracted. Otherwise, you’ll figure this out after the first few minutes. The play’s focus is what they’ll do about this crisis.
The playwrights, Gabrielle Lazarovitz and Brad Long, let us get to know this couple via flashbacks to their courtship and recent past, as well as a few flash forwards to possible outcomes. We get to know two people who grew up in comfort in suburbia then entered into a co-dependent marriage which is being stressed by severe economic problems. Many of these problems they have brought upon themselves. For example, Paul has only a high school diploma, has no marketable skills, and still dresses like a 17-year old. Lauren wears ripped jeans to work as a college lecturer and to her second job as a diner waitress. Would you hire these people?
They have no community. “Why should I be responsible for anyone else (even my spouse?), when no one is looking after me?” They have lost touch with their old neighbourhood, know none of their new neighbours, have tenuous relationships with their mothers, but… they have each other and their aspirations.
Lauren says, “I want a car and a house and a future.” But she feels “like things are slipping away from us.” They frequently rail against their fate. ”We had a plan. It wasn’t supposed to be like this!”
Oh, and the reference to Malvina Reynolds’s famous 1962 song satirizing suburban middle class conformity, “Little Boxes”? I think it’s because Paul and Lauren grew up in the suburbs and embraced the middle class materialistic dreams that Reynolds so cunningly attacked. But that’s just a guess, as there’s little evidence in the play that the playwrights are disparaging Paul and Lauren’s dreams.
“I don’t know what the right thing to do is. There’s the right thing, and there’s the right thing for us.”
But to get back to the crisis… the car accident. There’s a mock-up of the front of a car and roadway on the stage (an aside: when the car’s headlights are turned on, it’s almost impossible to look at the stage if you’re sitting in the middle of the audience, as the lights are too bright). The child Lauren hit was the little girl next door, who somehow was on the road late at night in front of her house (the logistics of the accident are fuzzy). We have to assume she’s been killed instantly (we’re not told). Paul and Lauren debate what to do, but we can tell what they’ll eventually decide. They both say, “This happened and it was an accident and we don’t deserve to be punished,” and, most crucially, “I don’t know what the right thing to do is. There’s the right thing, and there’s the right thing for us.”
It’s hard for the audience to sympathize with Paul and Lauren’s moral plight and dire financial straits, as they are so selfish, so disconnected from others, and so morally bankrupt.
The banality of evil, eh?
Reviewed by Courtney Merchand
Alone. Together. Alone together. One simple phrase just resonates so completely with last night’s world premiere of Little Boxes. It’s a story we have all lived at one point or another: being underemployed, surviving paycheck-to-paycheck or just struggling to find the time to care.
As the play opens with a very Weeds-like intro, you meet Paul (Carter Hayden) and Lauren (Gabrielle Lazarovitz) – the suburbanites. The couple are sitting in the front seat of their car, frozen. This is a place in time we revisit throughout the play as the couple relive the events over and over in their minds.
But when the unthinkable happens, what do you do?
A modest set of a two car seats with lamps for headlights creates an unavoidable feeling of intimacy. You are privy to the trivial, silly conversations two people have in the comfort of their car, carefree and when nobody’s watching. It’s raw, it’s real and oddly reminiscent of a memory you’ve already lived. I became so completely caught up in the inner workings of their relationship, I forgot they’re struggling with a decision between what’s right, and what’s right for them.
I became so completely caught up in the inner workings of their relationship, I forgot they’re struggling with a decision between what’s right, and what’s right for them.
This hour-long play unravels quickly and life for the pair isn’t as happy-go-lucky as it seems. Before long, dirty secrets are divulged and insults hurled. It’s a ring-around-the-rosie of blame. They’re at a crossroads and no matter what direction they choose, they will become more themselves than they ever have been, for better or for worse.
Gabrielle Lazarovitz and Brad Long’s play transitions from past, present and future like a flash before your eyes, literally and figuratively. At some points, the switches are so quick you aren’t entirely sure where you’ve ended up but before you know it, you’re back to the frantic faces of Paul and Lauren as they search their own morality for the right answers.
Little Boxes rides the peaks and valleys of an all too relatable relationship. Faced with the decision of what to do after one gut-wrenching dilemma, you’re left silently questioning your own compass as if it were you in the driver’s seat.
Little Boxes is playing in the undercurrents festival at Arts Court Theatre (2 Daly Ave) until February 17. Visit undercurrentsfestival.ca for a schedule of performances. Tickets cost $20–25 online and at the box office.