After a glass of wine at Bu, head down to the basement and catch some top-notch theatre
The manager tiptoed through the back entrance, pulled three baguettes from the deep-freeze, then sheepishly scurried out the way he came. With The Dishwashers reaching its climax in the next room, this small intrusion was a stark reminder that, during the show, a fancy wine bar continues about its business just upstairs.
Last year, Sidemart performed its acclaimed version of American Buffalo in an alley. The Dishwashers‘ subterranean locale continues the company’s interest in site-specific theatre. In this production, Sarah Yaffe’s lighting and Trent Pardy’s set amaze. With mountains of white dishes and a few desk lamps, they create a haunting palette of chipped concrete and gleaming steel that is both jarringly intimate and strangely beautiful.
Because one of the play’s central themes is control, the decision to stage Morris Panych’s simultaneously funny and disturbing work in a functioning basement plays a central part in the action. Unexpected events from the real world inevitably encroach upon the stage, mocking the characters as they wrestle with the forces that resulted in their position as lowly plate jockeys.
However, the location’s novelty never overshadows a stellar ensemble performance by the cast. Chip Chuipka portrays the decrepit Moss with perfect amounts of phlegm and obliviousness. Likewise, Alain Goulem mines the idealistic, demanding Dressler for all he’s worth, coming across as alternately frightening and caring as he manipulates those under his supervision. Finally, there’s Patrick Costello’s Emmett, or "the new guy," a young go-getter full of contradictions and subtle complexity. Throughout the course of our time with them, we learn few concrete details about their lives, but much about the connection between ambition and despair.
Only minor cracks appear in an otherwise pristine production. Musical selections from Tom Waits and Sunset Rubdown feel a little too overtly hipster and out of step with the characters’ personalities. Plus, while taking nothing away from Kyle Gatehouse’s brief appearance as the replacement "new guy," the final scene feels slightly superfluous, especially for an audience forced to sweat it out alongside the actors.
Overall, Sidemart kicks off the fall season with a gritty, inspired production. The Dishwashers reaffirms that micromanaging too often squeezes the life out of plays, and director Andrew Shaver should be commended for injecting a modicum of chaos into the medium.
At Bu: Bar à Vin (5245 St-Laurent), until Sept. 29