Vancouver Fringe 2019: Mx

Look at this photo. Do you think this show might be a bit illustrative?

Playwright Lili Robinson has some great instincts.

Mx, Robinson’s exploration of her combined African and white heritage, starts with a monologue from Mz. Nancy (Alisha Davidson looking gorgeously imposing in a red sequined dress, scarlet-and-gold headscarf, and sparkling red shoes.) “Some faces I recognize from other evenings,” she says, “Stops on the tour. Dreams.” Mz. Nancy seems to be some kind of traveling talk-show host with a twist: the trickster version of Oprah.

Mz. Nancy invites a character named Max — or Mx — up from the audience: it’s Robinson; she’s a plant. Then Mz. Nancy and Samantha, a perky, 50s-style white woman proceed to vie for possession of Mx’s soul.

Robinson peppers Mx with puppetry (a talking map), dancing, lip sync, and ritual, which is all refreshing. And there’s some sly humour: when Samantha tries to lure Mx to her side, she offers a croissant.

But the folks who were supposed to help Robinson structure her script have let her down. Robinson won the Fringe New Play Prize last year, which means that Mx was developed with the assistance of the Playwrights Theatre Centre — specifically dramaturge Joanna Garfinkel.

But Garfinkel has left Mx with a passive protagonist: Mx just gets booted around by the other two, so there’s a blank where the script’s centre should be. And Samantha is a two-dimensional villain, a condescending faux liberal who calls Mx the N word when her mask slips.

So the only interesting character onstage is Mz. Nancy, who’s beneficent but unreliable. Mz. Nancy promises to introduce Mx to her Black father’s side of the family but, as Samantha says, “Nancy isn’t so much about information as she is about possibilities.”

Both Davidson as Mz. Nancy and Emily Jane King as Samantha deliver stylish, committed performances; King comes across as a vampire version of Grace Kelly. Robinson is a little less sure as Mx, but she hasn’t given herself much to work with.

In its current version, Mx is an illustrated essay. I’d love to see a version in which we get to see Mx’s story as a story.

And, yes, I am a white guy reviewing the work of a woman of colour. I was invited to do so. I also want to diversify the voices on my site so, if you’re interested in working together, please get in touch.

At the Revue Stage. Remaining performances on September 9 (5:00 p.m.), 13 (10:15 p.m.), and 15 (5:15 p.m.)


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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