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Photo by Tanja Tiziana.

undercurrents: Strong writing and outstanding performances in A Man Walks into a Bar

By Diane Lachapelle on February 19, 2016

There’s a quote I’ve seen kicking around a lot recently, usually attributed to Margaret Atwood, though there’s some controversy about its exact origin and wording; it goes something like “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.” Whoever said it and however it was said, the sentiment hits a nerve in very close proximity to the one hit by A Man Walks Into a Bar. A haunting rabbit hole awaits any close examination of the concept.

As the play opens, a woman is trying to tell the audience a joke that begins with the classic set up that is also the title of the play; “trying” being the operative word as there is a man present to make sure she gets it right. He may want to be helpful, but comes across as incredibly condescending. The woman is a good sport, however, and indulges his suggestions, and they begin acting out the scene as the Man actually walks into a bar where he meets a Waitress.

As the two continually interrupt the scene to refine the joke, character lines blur until it is difficult to tell which version is really happening. What ensues is a study in gender dynamics that starts out innocently enough, but takes a sinister turn and by the end spirals into something outright menacing, where every word and move can be interpreted a number of different ways with very different consequences depending on which side of the bar you’re standing on.

I can’t imagine this is an easy play to watch if you’re a man. I know it’s not an easy play to watch if you’re a woman. My reaction was visceral and it was apparent that I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. If you’ve ever wondered where the pit of your stomach was, A Man Walks Into A Bar is well worth your time. The writing by Rachel Blair is strong; even as the dread hanging over the proceedings becomes heavier, it stays hilarious almost until the end, and the performances by Rachel Blair and Blue Bigwood-Mallin are outstanding. The characters feel completely real and honest, as if you could actually run into them in your neighbourhood pub. It’s not a comforting thought.

A Man Walks into a Bar is at Arts Court Theatre as part of the undercurrents theatre festival. It has two performances remaining: Friday Feb 19 at 7pm and Saturday Feb 20 at 9pm. Tickets are $18.