Review: Satellite(s)

The mandate of Solo Collective Theatre includes a commitment to “supporting and promoting visible minorities and cultural diversity.” Running through to November 26 at Performance Works, Satellite(s) raises a vital question, especially for Vancouver’s art scene: how do you honour diversity when white people write the script? If Satellite(s) is any indication, you don’t.

Satellite(s), written by Aaron Bushkowsky, tells the story of Jan, played admirably by Jillian Fargey. A wealthy white activist and author, Jan champions a battle against off-shore investors buying out her neighbourhood and leaving empty “Monster Houses” in place of a formerly vibrant community. When the property next door is bought in such a transaction, she meets Li (a “satellite kid”) whose mother Cherry (a real estate agent based in China) has bought the house and left Li there alone. The rest of the story is a mish-mash of sexual politics, confusing framing devices, thinly drawn characters, and endless platitudes.

Photo by Aaron Bushkowsky

Photo by Aaron Bushkowsky

At best, Satellite(s) lampoons Vancouver’s sense of self, stirring up wit by making the situation laughable. But in purporting to examine human connections and complexity beneath the politics of the Vancouver housing crisis, Satelitte(s) offers little beyond the surface. The couple seated beside me commented on how the play’s characters and scenarios are just what one reads about in the newspaper. And this is exactly right—we are given caricatures from a headline, offering little in way of insight. Though it seems at moments to hedge on something deeper, the ham-fisted and clumsy manner in which emotional complexity is explored stops the effectiveness of any such depth.

The central metaphor of the satellite implies that we can all see ourselves in Li’s situation. Even in a densely-packed city, we float around each other like satellites, attempting to transmit messages but unable to truly connect. Unfortunately, this message is delivered with little subtlety, with the characters’ inner worlds revealed through blatant statements that they “know what it is to be alone,” and asking questions such as “why me?” “who am I?” and “what am I doing here?”.

As an exploration of the housing crisis, Satellite(s) is incredibly short-sighted. Colonialism is ignored, called to painful light when Jan asks Sharon Crandall’s Cherry to “think about the people who were here before you,” referring to herself and her neighbours. Racism is invoked in a flippant way we are meant to understand as a joke. When Jan incomprehensibly shows up in China to lambast Cherry for negligent mothering, we are led to understand that her actions are not due to racial discomfort or unanalyzed privilege, but a mysterious head trauma that makes her do “crazy” things. The “craziness” of the play’s women is a disappointing cliché, sapping characters like Meaghan Chenosky’s Sandy of much nuance.

Photo by Aaron Bushkowsky

Photo by Aaron Bushkowsky

Despite the script’s frustrations, the cast does well to flesh out what small moments they can. Meaghan Chenosky gives some of the night’s best comedic delivery, and Mason Temple as Li shows promise. The show’s musical moments, though somewhat confusing, were an interesting addition that helped flesh out the thin emotional tenor.

Given the audience reaction to Satellite(s), the play has a lot to offer in entertainment value to a specific demographic. Having just sold their Vancouver home, the couple beside me found that the play mirrored their experience, and they were amused and satisfied. But what is the purpose of exploring a complicated situation if only to confirm the opinions and experiences of the audience? Offering little in the way of challenge or illumination, Satellite(s) presents a palatable and vaguely existential picture of humanity by and for a mature middle-to-upper class white audience. As a response to crisis, this is not nearly enough.

More info + tickets can be found here.