Review by K.C. Novak
The recorded pre-show intro for Twenty Something Theatre’s production of 52 Pick-Up is funny in the way the show itself is funny: it’s meta, it’s charming, it’s hip. The voice instructs us to answer our phones if they happen to ring, to tell the caller to come down to see 52 Pick-Up immediately, and to know that we were wrong if we were one of those people who thought a pre-recorded intro for the show wasn’t going to work.
The premise of Canadian co-playwrights TJ Dawe and Rita Bozi’s 52 Pick-Up is simple: a man and a woman enter to start the show, toss a deck of cards into the air, and proceed to act out 52 vignettes from their failed relationship, one randomly recovered card at a time.
Director Brian Cochrane’s staging in Havana Theatre is equally clear and simple to strong effect. In the theatre nestled in the back corner of Havana Restaurant, two chairs and an Oriental rug sit on the black box stage. Internal monologues, phone calls, post-coital pillow talk, café scenes, and soliloquies of singledom are performed within the definitive boundaries of the stage, creating a consistent story structure despite chance.
It’s here where credit is due to both actors Sara Andrina Brown and Dan Willows. Their playful, charismatic stage personas are equal to the charm of 52 Pick-Up and also its inherent game. Both actors manage with ease the memory-recall of 52 starting points and also 52 new ways to allow the previous scene to inform the next. Brown and Willows delightfully move within this framework as two skilled comedians would through an improv show. A small gaff in reading the next scene’s card included Brown laughing at herself, turning her mistake into brief commentary on the play, then feeding her laughter into her character for the next scene, which had the audience laughing at her inside jokes (very meta, much charming, so hip).
But while the success of 52 Pick-Up is the novelty of how the story is being told, not much is provided to give a sense as to why. The script itself is lacking: while the opening suggests two former lovers are reconvening to go through the past for one another’s sake, interior scenes address the audience head-on, as if a public trial is the actual reason for ruining a deck of cards. And why a deck of cards? Outside the pun, there is no relationship between the play’s structure and story.
This leaves too much of a gap for director and performers to amend. The best attempts are made by Brown’s willingness to realize the honesty of the relationship in her performance. Her soft-eyed vulnerability, in contrast to Willows’ presentational and sketch-like approach, give 52 Pick-Up a depth it often loses to the necessity of quickly establishing character arcs with clichés and inside jokes. It would be a more fulfilling evolution to see the heartbreak, rather than just the breakneck (and very impressive) speed of reassembling 52 moments of these two lovers’ lives in 65 minutes..
Twenty Something Theatre’s mission includes “producing contemporary theatre that is provocative, edgy and relevant to our generation.” They are spot-on with mounting 52 Pick-Up in Havana Theatre, the low din of restaurant chitchat just audible beyond the closed theatre doors. It’s everything a twenty-something night out should have: comedy, pot jokes, locally produced art, and a bar waiting nearby. “I would totally swipe right on this show,” said this reviewer. “I found it to be meta and charming and hip.”
K.C. Novak is pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing and Theatre at UBC.