Satellite(s): this new play spins on wonky orbits

Solo Collective is producing Aaron Bushkowsky's Satellite(s) at Performance Works.

Mason Temple, seen here with Sharon Crandall, delivers a breakout performance in Satellite(s).

What a wasted opportunity.

Foreign home ownership in Vancouver is a huge and complicated issue. With its threads of racism, self-righteousness, entitlement, greed, and privilege, it’s ripe for theatrical treatment. But, in his new script, Satellite(s), playwright Aaron Bushkowsky manages to find almost nothing of interest in it.

In Satellite(s), a white, middle-aged writer named Jan is on a crusade to stop her neighbourhood from being bought up by foreign buyers and transformed through the demolition of older homes and the construction of new ones. When a wealthy Chinese national named Cherry purchases the house next to Jan’s and installs her 17-year-old son Li in it—alone—before heading back to China, Jan is torn between her fury at Cherry and her compassion for Li.

Not a bad start. But then Bushkowsky gets distracted by a stupid sex farce. Jan’s husband, a cop named Andy, is having an affair with Cherry’s realtor Sandy. And, when Cherry tries to bribe a city official named Omar—first with cash and then with sex—Cherry and Omar fall into a romantic relationship. (Because, of course, that’s how so many romantic relationships begin.) Have I mentioned that Omar, the city official, and Sandy the realtor are married? Well, they are.

There is so much wrong with this. First of all, it has nothing to do with the real issues that arise from foreign home ownership. And, on a more immediate level, no woman in her right mind would have anything to do with either Andy or Omar. Andy is a self-serving hoser. And Omar, the city official, is a soulless prick who thinks that confessing his infidelity to his wife an hour after he has committed it will soften the blow.

And the plot is a series of contrivances. Two of the Canadian characters fly to China When Jan does so, she says something like, “I can’t believe I just did this.” Neither could I.

There’s also a huge problem in that Bushkowsky offers us virtually no insight into Cherry’s motivations or experiences. Jan spews a list of anti-foreign-buyer statistics off the top of the show, but the opposing case is never persuasively made either statistically or emotionally.

Bushkowsky tosses in a dash of existentialism: characters talk about loneliness and lack of meaning. But this material is so unintegrated, it just feels like another lump in the pudding.

For the most part, the performers are acting their pants off. Impressively, Meghan Chenosky finds both emotional reality and comic spin in Sandy, the realtor. At one point, she says to Andy, helplessly, “You make me laugh on the inside.” And, although no one on earth could make Andy romantically appealing, Alex Zahara does an excellent job of exploiting the character’s clown-like qualities. Jillian Fargey pours her heart into her portrait of Jan and Sharon Crandall gives more to Cherry than the writing deserves. Unfortunately, Anousha Alamian adds not a single note of charm to the already charmless Omar.

I also want to say that there is a terrific surprise in the acting department. In his first show since he graduated from Studio 58 this spring, Mason Temple is playing Li—and he is a revelation. In a nuanced performance, Temple makes Li the most credible character on-stage. Li is sullen and resentful, but he is also as sweet as a pup. And there’s irresistible charm in the way he laughs at himself and others as they try to negotiate cultural differences.

The other great success of this production is Yvan Morissette’s set design. Morissette is a distinctively sculptural artist who often employs unexpected materials. Here, he uses honeycomb cardboard to create a functional, but non-literal environment: a wall of sorts, a bar, and a plinth, all of which look like they’ve been built out of primitive, prototypical Lego.

But the script offers few rewards.

SATELLITE(S) By Aaron Bushkowsky. Directed by Bill Dow. A Solo Collective production at Performance Works on Friday, November 17. Continues until November 26.

Tickets are available here.

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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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