Green Lake: the tenderness of girl crushes and absent dads

Alexandra Lainfiesta won a Jessie for her work in Green Lake.

The sweet agony of teen love in Katey Hoffman’s Green Lake.

Playwright Katey Hoffman continues to be one of the most exciting new voices on the local theatre scene: not everything about Green Lake works, but a lot of it does and the script is as original as all hell.

With Cheyenne Mabberley, Hoffman wrote The After After Party, a gross-out girl comedy that was a hit at this year’s Vancouver Fringe Festival. That script kept its audience in giddy, breathless surprise for its entire length. To her credit—she’s an adventuresome artist—Hoffman is trying something very different with Green Lake: there’s still plenty of quirky humour in this script, but there’s also a much more serious emotional undertow.

A 13-year-old girl who calls herself Jane gets sent off to three weeks of summer camp on Green Lake. While there, she meets a 15-year-old female camp counselor named Skittles—and develops an instant crush. As the play bounces back and forth in time, we also see Jane as a 20-year-old university student trying to connect with her dad, who disappeared from her life when she was tiny.

The storytelling is deliberately fragmented—much like consciousness, mine anyway. Not only do we jump about chronologically, we also leap in and out of metatheatricality: some scenes are played as straight dialogue but, in others, actors comment from outside the action. When Jane (Alexandra Lainfiesta) and her father (Michael Scholar Jr.) stumble their way through their first post-reunion conversation, for instance, Actor 1 (Donna Soares) observes, “This is painful for everyone.”

At first, the play’s hyperactivity kept me at an emotional distance, a problem that was exacerbated by the busyness of director Rachel Peake’s production. In John Webber’s lighting design, every character gets a special every time they speak an aside: sometimes it feels like a manic kid has a busy hand on the light switch. Malcolm Dow’s sound design is often intrusive: the bubbling music he provides distracts from the opening exchanges and hearing the sound of a pen scratching on paper every time Jane makes a diary entry is both annoying and disappointingly literal.

But then the story hits a sustained scene in which Jane and Skittles fall in love. When this happened, I had emotional access to the play all of a sudden and I fell a little bit in love, too. The romantic storyline is more successfully developed than the father/daughter thread, but there are pleasures to be had in both.

Consider this exchange. In her tent, Skittles says to Jane, “I think you’re what’s right with the world.” “Replay”, says Jane and Skittles repeats herself as if she’s on rewind. “One more time,” Jane says and the same thing happens. This sequence is touching, funny, and stylistically playful. It’s Green Lake at its best.

Hoffman also has an endearingly bizarre sense of rhythm. Skittles initiates the following exchange; the interjection is from Jane: “Do you know a duck’s quack doesn’t echo and no one knows why?/Why?/No one knows.” Maybe you have to be there, but trust me, it works.

Hoffman is also a dab hand at the more familiar humour of funny lines. Describing the small town where she lives, Jane says, “If you listen closely at night, you can hear the sound of hymens popping.”

In this production from Solo Collective Theatre, Yvan Morissette’s set is thing of beauty and impressive functionality. Its central element—almost its only element—is a sculpture made of slatted boards that twist in a sensuous curve. That curve manages to transform into many things, including a lakeshore, a coffee bar, and, astonishingly, bunk beds.

Under Peake’s direction, key performances are lovely. I particularly enjoyed the combination of fragility and resilience that Lainfiesta brings to Jane. Lainfiesta is relatively new on the scene, but she has been quickly proving herself in shows as varied as West Side Story at Theatre Under the Stars and Marrow at the Fringe. And it’s a delight to watch Michael Scholar Jr. (Actor 2 and Father) again. Scholar has recently returned to Vancouver from New York City, where he was training with the legendary director Anne Bogart at Columbia University. Scholar’s responsiveness—especially in his scenes as the Father—is exquisite.

In the play, Jane says to Skittles, “I want people to see me…like who I am, if that makes sense.” We see you, Katey Hoffman—yes, I am presuming to speak for the audience with this “we”—and, as you continue to explore your artistry, we look forward to seeing more of you.

GREEN LAKE By Katey Hoffman. Directed by Rachel Peake. A Solo Collective Theatre production at Performance Works on Friday, November 18. Continues until November 27.

Get tickets at http://tickets.theatrewire.com/shows/green%20lake/events

 

 

 

 

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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