by Lynn on April 21, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Videofag, 187 Augusta Ave., Toronto, Ont.

Written by Julia Lederer
Directed by Aurora Stewart de Peña
Sound by Slater Manzo and Jim Stewart
Light and Projections by Kristina McNamee
Costumes by Aurora Stewart de Peña
Cast: Rebecca Applebaum
Michael Eisner
Julia Lederer.

The Best Plan for Living Happily seems to be an attempt to make a deep statement about life and happiness using Plato’s Cave Theory of reality that misses.

The Story. Violet and Linda have been best friends since public school. Now Linda is getting married and is stressed about it. She lives in a world where the number of people at a table must be even. An odd number of guests is something with which she can’t cope. The whole wedding and the day must be perfect. So she has appointments with a ribbon colourist and a tea sommelier. She frets over the quality of the paper to be used—should it be Japanese or from Staples? And she wants Violet to tell her which feels better.

And don’t even ask about the thought that Linda’s mother wants to wear white to her daughter’s wedding. This sets Linda off even more. Linda has even composed the seating plan according to types: couples who are together but shouldn’t be; people who never made it in high school or anywhere. What’s missing is any involvement of the groom. Violet seems to fill in whenever Linda needs calming.

But Violet has her own issues. She works in a boring, frustrating job at the University of Toronto in the Anthropology Department. She is interested in Plato’s cave theory but not enough to delve into the subject deeper than Wikipedia. (In Plato’s theory, prisoners are chained in a cave so that they only see the wall in front of them. There is a fire behind the prisoners. People behind the prisoners pass by holding puppets that represent birds, animals etc. The people hold these items in front of the fire, thus throwing shadows on the wall the prisoners are facing. These shadows are the only reality these people have. Then a prisoner is allowed to leave the cave. They are blinded by the sunlight; get adjusted to it and see the reality of the world. They want to share this with their fellow prisoners so go back into the darkness of the cave and again can’t see properly but get used to it, and then don’t go through with the escape. The reality of the cave will suffice. Or so it’s been explained…it is a real skimming of the theory.)

She wants to go into a cave and see how that is. She joins a Cave Club and meets the only other person at the meeting, a fellah who seems sweet. He’s divorced with a son. He offers to loan Violet his caving equipment. Several days before the wedding Violet goes on her cave experience, staying in the cave until the wedding; writing her wedding speech; and learning about herself and reality and happiness. To see that she’s ok, the cave club guy joins her. Lots of philosophizing.

The Production. The cast (Rebecca Applebaum, Michael Eisner and Julia Lederer) efficiently moves props on and off the stage to change scenes and even use the theatre’s front door for realistic entrances and exits.

Linda is self-absorbed, flighty and superficial. Rebecca Applebaum plays Linda as a high-voiced airhead. Violet seems a bit more substantial as a character—all that Plato etc.—but has her own issues with insecurity and indecision. Julia Lederer plays Violet as a sad soul who questions who she is and if she will ever get out of her rut. The voice of some reason is the cave –man who tries to endear himself to Violet by showing up at the cave to see how she is. Michael Eisner plays him with a soft, quivery voice who tries to give Violet some sense of realistic thinking.

The Videofag space is long, narrow and challenging in which to stage anything. For this production the audience sits in two rows of chairs along one wall with the action happening in front of that. There are no risers for the second row so it is not a good idea to stage something in which a character either sits or kneels down to tend to something on the floor. I wish director Aurora Stewart de Peña thought of that when a few scenes were staged like that. Those of us in the second row could not see what the characters were doing.

While Violet is in the cave, wearing her helmet with a light clipped to the front so she can see in the dark, she marks the number of days she’s spent there with a piece of chalk on the wall. The problem is that the chalk she’s using is white as is the wall of the theatre on which she is printing. It’s important that the audience have the number of days in that cave clearly in their sights. It’s not clear if they can’t see the white on white printing. The audience is primed to suspend its disbelief when they go to the theatre. Surely a darker piece of chalk or even a pencil should be used.

At one point Linda mispronounces “Plato” to sound like “Plado” and Violet corrects her, noting the “T”. But then Julia Lederer as Violet continues to mis-pronounce it “Plado” for the rest of the play as well. Now that can’t be right.

Comment. My concerns with the production aside, the real problem is Julia Lederer’s play. I can appreciate her off-the-wall imagination, trying to use Plato’s Cave Theory to make a statement about twenty-somethings trying to get a grip on a certain kind of reality. But Lederer has stacked the deck against herself by writing such superficial characters. Linda is a self-absorbed twit. The minutiae of her wedding plans is one over-long joke that says everything about her when she first has an appointment with a ribbon colourist. Every hair-brained reference after that is just overkill. The whining that goes on between these Violet and Linda makes one wonder why they deserve a play at all. More than once I wondered, “Why am I in the room with these people?”

I appreciated the cave-man’s quiet common sense and that Julie Lederer wrote that character as a foil to Violet and perhaps to prod her into thinking more maturely. His every utterance was a breath of fresh air in its clarity of thought. Why then does Lederer not name him in the dialogue? Does it make sense that Violet and the cave-man would have an extended conversation at the Cave Club and not exchange names? Nope. Does it make sense that they spend several days in a cave and not exchange names at all! Nope.

At the end of the play I had to ask the stage manager sitting beside me what his name was. It’s Scott. I asked the stage manager, “Was I supposed to know that (since it’s not in the program at all)?” She said, “No.” But I note that it is in the script. Not naming the ‘cave-man’ makes the characters seem stupid and that weakens the play.

Nope, not a happy night in the theatre.

Birdtown and Swanville and Questionmark-Exclamation Theatre present:

First performance: April 7, 2016.
Last performance: April 23, 2016.
Cast: 3; 1 man, 2 women
Running Time: 90 minutes, approx.

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