We all strive for better living. When times are tough, we hold out hope that things will get better — that circumstances will somehow improve.
Art imitates life, then in Langham Court Theatre’s production of Better Living, written by George F. Walker, running until May 11.
Directed by Wendy Merk, Better Living is a pitch-black comedy that offers plenty of both laughter and desperation. No subject is off limits — suicide, murder, addiction, exorcism, pre-marital sex and faithlessness are all fodder for jokes in this piece.
Better Living is as much a story about a dysfunctional family as it is about the dysfunction of power in today’s society. Can we get organized when things are chaotic all around us? Should we fight fire with fire?
Right off the bat, it’s clear, through the state of their household, that the family is in ruins — mud-stained, cracked walls and one of the filthiest refrigerators I’ve ever laid eyes on, are the centrepieces of the set designed by Don Keith.
And right off the bat, obscenity is centre stage. A man wearing priestly vestments (Uncle Jack, played by Paul Bertorelli) enters the home to the sound of sex going on upstairs. A half-naked young man (Junior, played by Colby Weeds in his acting debut) makes his way down to the kitchen for a visit to the fridge, only to be met by Uncle Jack and “Fuck” is the first — and last — thing out of his mouth before he retreats to the sanctuary of his young lover’s bedroom. Jack doesn’t seem to care. Clearly no one is in charge here.
Soon enough mother Nora (Lorene Cammiade) emerges from the basement, where she’s busy tunnelling under the backyard, trying to build an underground addition to the family home so her daughter Mary Ann (played by Michelle Mitchell) can come home, after her marriage failed.
Daughter Gail (the young lover played with depth by Aisling Goodman), a cross between a headstrong teenager and a vulnerable child, looks for both validation and independence from her family, all while showing concern for the state of her mother’s mental health. Who, after all, builds an underground extension to a family home?
Daughter Elizabeth (played by Kate Harter) seems to be the only one to escape the family home unscathed. She’s a practicing lawyer, and has taken on the role of parent in the absence of their abusive, alcoholic father, Tom (played by Wayne Yercha), who abandoned the family a decade ago and is now presumed dead.
When Jack tells the family that he’s been in contact with Tom, and that he intends to return to the family home — each family member has a mental breakdown — Nora is in denial, Elizabeth is angry, Mary Ann is scared, Gail is on the defensive and Jack numbs his feelings with alcohol. This family is obsessive, neurotic and intense, and that manifests differently in each character. Kudos to the cast for allowing themselves to sink to that level of disturbed hysterics.
When Tom does return to help them prepare for the “total shit future,” all hell breaks loose. People are yelling at, and over, each other, they abandon their responsibilities and fold in the face of the impending domination by Tom — the socio-economic experiment Tom puts them through leaves them pitiful, pathetic versions of their former selves.
There are gun fights, explosions, and explosive confrontations, but there are also enough laughs to keep you from having a mental break yourself — and to wonder if there really is hope for Better Living. M
Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm
Saturday at 2pm
Until May 11
Tickets are $21/19/16 and are available at Langhamtheatre.ca/boxoffice
Tues., May 7 is two for $30