Bang Bang is a pretzel of a play. The first act is fun, with lots of creative twists and turns and a satisfying amount of salty humour. Then the second act is used to straighten it out. Ever try to straighten a pretzel? Damage is inevitable. And in this play, the damage is inflicted on our sense of self. You don’t walk out of this play feeling smug.
Wow, that’s a real ticket-selling promise! It’s also one of the many issues dropped into the dialogue. Even the production company gets put under scrutiny. The Great Canadian Theatre Company’s mandate is “to foster, produce and promote excellent theatre that provokes examination of Canadian life and our place in the world.” And, conveniently, there is a playwright character who is attempting to bring some issues to light. Things don’t go very well for him.
Bang Bang’s playwright, Kat Sandler uses the cast’s varied characters to challenge our delusions (including her own) as they challenge each other onstage. If you read the show program, you’ll see the plot centres around “a Black former police officer whose career ended after she shot an unarmed Black youth.” So, you won’t be surprised by the melodramatic beginning. But that’s the end of the play’s predictability.
You won’t be surprised by the melodramatic beginning. But that’s the end of the play’s predictability.
Heaviness is soon replaced by hilarity as characters are brought onstage. We’re kept off balance by fast pace and humour, and the Puck-like performance of Eric Coates as Tony the Bodyguard. If you caught that Shakespearean reference, then get ready for more, because this play’s the thing to keep you from settling into some preach-to-the-choir zone. That little voice in our head that is constantly predicting what’s about to happen… Getting ready to join in the smug judgement of a stereotype… That doesn’t come.
What does come is a series of memes which are shot down in rapid succession.
Cassandre Mentor, as Lila, starts off with the difficult task of presenting a person in the middle of a PTSD episode triggered by a nightmare scenario. Then, she is handed the task of guiding the tension of the play. One wrong gesture, tone, or dialogue misstep can destroy the authenticity of the slow build. Lucinda Davis as Karen, the mother/psychologist keeps the play real. She tones down the melodramatic vibes with such realistic mannerisms, that I began to think my aunt was up on stage. Then Lucinda rounds out her character with a time-stopping crisis intervention scene that had the audience holding our breaths.
Poor Phillip Merriman is Kat Sandler’s surrogate whipping boy as Tim the playwright. Good Guy/Bad Guy/Shallow/Haunted/Ambitious, you name it. If it is in the list of self-recriminations an author must deal with; Tim must expose it to us, in a believable manner. Phillip navigates these changes fluidly by keeping his character animated and reactive to all that is happening on set. There’s no time to breath and be part of the scenery for him. So too with Michael Ayres as Jackie, the token everything. Michael’s stage presence gives him an authenticity which keeps him above the clichés his character is meant to bear in the script. He’s also the one who is given the task of reminding us that, though The Arts is a platform for Social Messaging, it is also an opportunity for Ego, Wealth, and Business. For all to succeed in balance there must be true human connections.
Director Bronwyn Steinberg’s influence can be seen in the pacing, emphasis and diversions needed to keep the action going. I could see people leaning forward in concentration during the middle of the second act (which is a good thing to have happen in a two-hour play). There is an intriguing disorientation about the pace and dialogue that shuts down that autocomplete in our brains.
Someone mentions Black Lives Matter, and Tony mentions that putting the potato chips inside the sandwiches is a game-changer. Did it just happen to you right now? Did one part of your brain start a mental newsfeed about the struggle for dignity in the Black community, and then another part wonder how to prevent the chips from going soggy?
The stimulus of this unpredictable rhythm created an openness. So, when the gun does finally appear, we don’t know what’s going to happen next. That’s a nice state to be in as an audience member.
I won’t tell you if the play ends with a bang. It did leave me a bit dizzy. I was hit with so many ironies and challenges to perspective that a singular thought or emotion didn’t emerge until hours later. For me, it was the value of respect. That would be a nice Canadian value to boost and add to the world. But, that’s just my perspective. An Apt613 editor, Ryan Pepper, was also at the play reviewing for The Fulcrum. It’ll be interesting to read his thoughts.
Bang Bang is playing at the Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre (1233 Wellington St. W) until November 10, 2019. Tickets are $39–55 online.