*The third paragraph of this review (starting “The writing is…”) includes content that could be considered spoilers.
The Sellout is a bit of a mixed bag: it ultimately makes a strong, valid statement about balancing artistic integrity and economic reality, but it gets there in a strange way.
The Sellout tells the story of Sam, a songwriter who still hasn’t gotten over breaking up with Emit, her personal and artistic partner. She’s clearly not in a good way: her apartment is littered with dirty dishes and empties, and her preoccupation with maintaining her craft comes at the expense of her diet, personal finances, and general likability as a person. Her sister Charlie has moved back from Toronto to look after her in ways such as paying her rent, buying her groceries, and more or less acting as her agent. This last part leads to Charlie hiring Christina, who works at a local radio station, to help Sam get over her writer’s block – not realizing that Sam and Christina have a romantic past. Despite this awkwardness, its clear that the real struggle is with Sam’s self-destructive behaviour caused by her fixation with not “selling out” – that is, figuring out how to use one’s art to make a liveable income.
The writing is intentionally bad for most of the play – the characters’ motivations don’t make logical sense, the plot seems like a loosely connected string of moments with chronology being the only discernible means of organization, and Sam’s personality is remarkably unattractive for the main character of a story – but writer Curtis Gough brings it all back with a shocking twist that stresses the psychological nature of Sam’s situation. Gough uses hallmarks of bad scriptwriting to lure the spectator into a false sense of security before turning it all around, and he does so impressively.
This doesn’t completely excuse some aspects of the script, however: Sam’s ex Emit appears in some scenes, but only to strum his guitar and repeat the same lines nearly every time he appears (including the character onstage seems unnecessary); the intentional choice to write all the characters as gender-neutral is not in itself artistically weak but in production the characters’ sexual fluidity that comes about as a result adds a certain complication to the characters’ relationships that doesn’t add much to the overall message. There isn’t quite as much music as might be expected in a show about musicians: the opening scene includes a lengthy sequence of Sam and Emit strumming their guitars and vocalizing non-verbally, but besides the few times this song repeats, there are only two other brief musical sequences. The “not-quite-a-musical” description fits well, though if there was more music we might get a better idea of how talented Sam actually is as an artist.
The acting is quite strong, especially Rebecca Laviolette as Sam’s sister Charlie. Laviolette’s obvious confidence onstage meshes very well with Charlie’s no-nonsense, perpetually proactive attitude, while also displaying a believable tenderness during some of the more emotional moments. Andrea MacWilliams embraces Sam’s self-destructive nature and has great chemistry with Victoria Luloff’s Christina. Luloff does admirably well with the throwaway lines given to her like “Co-workers, they’re the worst!” and provides what might be the best usage of the interjection “Jesus!” I have seen onstage.
The Sellout has the valuable message that to be an artist and to live in the real world is to accept that sometimes you have to take on projects that don’t speak to you just to pay the rent. The implicit equivocation of artistic integrity and mental illness is a little troubling, but it does address the susceptibility to depression and other mental illnesses within the artistic community in its own way at the very least. With strong acting and a few ‘WTF?’ moments throughout, this show will keep you engaged even if it doesn’t send shivers down your spine.
Written by Curtis Gough
Directed by Kevin Da Ponte
Stage Managed by Irfan Manji
Performed by Curtis Gough, Rebecca Laviolette, Victoria Luloff, and Andrea MacWilliams
At Studio 311 (BYOV B)
Running Time: 60 minutes
Wednesday 14 June 8:30pm
Thursday 15 June 6:00pm
Friday 16 June 9:00pm
Saturday 17 June 10:30pm
Sunday 18 June 2:00pm