Exploring personal and artistic struggle amongst white millennial Vancouverites, Midtwenties Theatre Society’s (MTS) Above the Hospital does its best to resonate with millennial artists and aspirants. In its consideration of economic unviability and creative endeavour, Above the Hospital presents a thesis of sorts on possibility—to whom this city owes it, and how much we must make for ourselves.
MTS’s second offering since July’s This is Our Youth, Above the Hospital is the company’s first original production. Written and directed by Beau Han Bridge, Above the Hospital tells the story of Lauren and Cameron, played by Mira Maschmeyer and Tristan Smith, a couple whose issues are bubbling just beneath the surface. A night of drinking and smoking—featuring an unexpected interruption by a cavalcade of Vancouver millennial types—pushes them to boiling point. In the context of Vancouver’s economy and bleak real estate prospects, the group drunkenly discusses art, ambition, and aspiration. While pointedly representing a millennial feeling that everyone is or can be an artist, Above the Hospital asks how possible it is to break the barrier of being just “aspiring.”
With the company’s focus on producing works about millennials and coming-of-age, Above the Hospital shows Bridge’s strength for character writing and variety. The types he represents are recognizable, if somewhat caricature-ized, and the costuming was a standout, solidifying the characters with spot-on detail. The script was generally strong, tending toward an aptly toned naturalism for the majority of the performance; though, while often well executed, this casual style of speech verged on too natural at times, resulting in muffled lines that lost their meaning. And since the setting and context were well established in the opening moments, the Vancouver name-dropping quickly became burdensome.
Despite the unbelievable suddenness and fury of the first-act climax, Bridge’s attention to small moments of comedy showed a light and measured touch. This skill brought forth one of the production’s greatest strengths—the exploration of a paradoxical social age which values artistic ambition without demanding its fruits. Sustaining the belief that a dream held endlessly at arm’s length can still represent determination requires a lack of self-reflection present in all of Above the Hospitals’ characters. Unfortunately, the dominant focus didn’t gel comfortably with the personal issues at stake. When character motivations and histories outside the realm of art or economy were introduced, the reveals felt clumsy and ungrounded. These moments revealed an overall tendency toward stereotype over well-roundedness and believability. The second act undid much of the thematic work of the first, and provided a muddied and confusing ending to what had previously been a strong character piece. Tonally disjointed, the finale felt slap-dash, allowing no gravitas for the last moment.
The pitfalls of Above the Hospital were buoyed by a strong cast: the role of Bo Han Renders is a brilliant fit for Zack Currie, and Maschmeyer’s performance was impactful and well-weighted. Emma Young also left a positive impression as Natasha I and II.
Despite its weak points, there were very strong elements to Above the Hospital, that show a creative sensibility to be finessed in future productions. Midtwenties Theatre Society has already pushed past the point of aspiration into realizing a creative vision, and that is something to congratulate.