Ian: I have to say my first night at undercurrents 2018 really blew me away, with two mainstage shows that examine major issues bubbling under the surface of Canadian society and a workshop production that’s already taking its unusual premise in fun directions. The first show of the night was Little Boxes, an exploration of the past, present, and possible futures of one suburban couple all colliding at once when they are faced with an unexpected major decision that metaphorically echoes the desperation of their domestic situation.
Paul and Lauren have a lot in common with other millennials: Lauren has postsecondary degrees that only add to their debts and works three jobs to keep hers and Paul’s heads above water; Paul was going to work his way up the corporate retail ladder the old-fashioned way before his store was closed by head office and has been unemployed since. The one thing they have that most other millennials don’t is their own home, or at least they did before they couldn’t pay their mortgage. Despite their economic stress and the obvious toll it takes on their marriage, they take pleasure in the little things in life like feeling superior to their trashy neighbours across the street and reminiscing about happier times when everything seemed more certain.
All of this comes crashing down on them during one brief moment of inattention, and suddenly as they are forced to consider their next move, the notion of who is to blame for accidents when so many parties are involved becomes the guiding theme not just of their immediate situation, but for a generation that was supposed to inherit a much different world from the one it got. Paul and Lauren’s situation is pitiable, but at the same time they are not blameless for their actions. It’s a very mature point of view for a show in its first-ever production, and the text, direction, acting, and design elements underscore it so well: Gabrielle Lazarovitz’s and Brad Long’s script keeps bouncing back and forth between the accident and Paul and Lauren’s lives in such a way that each time we return to the accident we have a slightly different understanding of it. Lazarovitz’s acting in particular is commendable for her navigation of so many different levels of anxiety between scenes, as well as her perfect timing during the scenes where she mocks the toothless woman living across the street. Carter Hayden’s Paul is likeable – on paper the character’s a bit of a deadbeat, but but Hayden keeps Paul on the audience’s good side through his onstage chemistry with Lazarovitz (as well as his own chance to shine when imitating the unseen trashy neighbours). The designs all work together with a lovely simplicity: with just two car seats and two desk lamps facing the audience to mimic headlights, and a sound design of ominous, surging music that occasionally goes from simmer to boil along with blinding flashes of light, the production itself uses the sensory experience of performance to reinforce the characters’ anxiety on the audience.
All in all, I can’t say that there’s much to criticize with this show. The themes are topical and yet they are explored more deeply, and the aesthetic elements work well together to create a show that is thought-provoking and entertaining. What do you think, Brie?
Brie: It’s always refreshing to see a local show make such strong choices on stage, both aesthetically and dramaturgically. The greatest element to this production, in my mind is the non-linear narrative which encourages active reception from the viewer as we bounce back and forth between Lauren and Paul’s memories and the night of the accident which, as you mentioned Ian, gives us a new interpretation of the event each time we revisit it. The through line Lauren echoes throughout the piece, “Who’s responsible?”, is one that rings deeply true of a society driven by capitalism and complicity.
I also want to commend the technical elements of this show, specifically the sound and lighting which are equally evocative in their own right. The soundscape is at times upbeat and funky, as when Lauren and Paul are first getting their groove on in the car, and at other times it’s pulsating and throbbing to symbolize the building chaos within the characters. The lighting on the surface appears very simple, with two floor lamps positioned in front of two car seats which are then operated by the performers on stage when they transition into the car scenes. Even though the “headlights” are glaring right out into the audience, it literally gives off the illusion of an oncoming automobile- using all of four objects! Sometimes simple is best, and the design team behind Little Boxes really uses this to their advantage.
On a more personal note, I found that a lot of this text really hitting home for me. I can attest to how frustrating the job market can be for millenials who hold any kind of formal training because far too often companies are looking to hire individuals in entry level positions with 5+ years direct experience, a degree or certificate of some variety, a solid familiarity with computers and computer softwares (usually), and to be bilingual (if you’re living in Ottawa); yet only want to pay minimum wage (or a bit above). And given how expensive it is to live independently, one can often be under-compensated for their experience and work.
Overall, I really enjoyed this show and think it’s representative of the hard work put in by this (mostly) Ottawa-based team.
A Little Boxes Collective Production
Created by Gabrielle Lazarovitz and Brad Long
Performed by Gabrielle Lazarovitz and Carter Hayden
Directed by Adam Paolozza
Design by Giuseppe Condello, Simon Labelle, Stephanie Dahmer Brett, and Vanessa Imeson
Assistant Director Megan Carty
Associate Producers Matt Hertendy and Sarah Finn