Just a simple family meal with a frog (Photo by Augusto Meza)
I’m grateful to every artist who takes on climate change and there are striking elements in Pippa Mackie’s script. Overall, though, Hurricane Mona is a mostly unfunny comedy and its structure sucks.
That said, there are some excellent performance and production elements. I’ll get to those as soon as I give you the lay of the land.
In Hurricane Mona, a 29-year-old climate activist named Mona has attacked a police car and is placed under house arrest in her well-heeled parents’ home. When it comes to the small-scale (and essentially meaningless) climate actions, Mona is a self-righteous pain in the ass. She berates her mom about coffee pods and, when an Amazon delivery comes to the front door, she throws it away. In the bigger picture though, Mona is undeniably correct: unless we take drastic action right now, we’re fucked, and it’s infuriating that so many people still behave as if that’s not the case.
Case in point: in response to Mona’s analysis, her mom Susan says, “That’s very depressing and it can’t be entirely true.” Susan distracts herself with an exercise challenge. Mona’s dad Rick, who’s taking French lessons, is almost hysterically in denial. Only Mona’s 19-year-old brother Jay has a clearer view, but it has led him to despair.
In a welcome surreal touch, Mackie has included a fifth character, Frog, the last of his species, who speaks tenderly to Jay. There’s a fantastically theatrical development — that I won’t give away — in a passage in which Mona and Jay do shrooms. The climax, which I’ll also keep secret, is satisfyingly, concretely emphatic. And the speech in which Jay expresses his hopelessness is moving.
I’d lay money on a bet that Sherine Menes, who’s playing Jay, is a star in the making. Amid the hysteria, Menes’s Jay is emotionally grounded and their understatement pays big comic dividends. Similarly, Craig Erickson (Rick) wrings comedy out of wordless reactions. And Diane Brown knows what’s she’s doing with the fussy Susan. There’s only so far she can go with the character as written, but Alex Gullason does what’s called for as Mona.
So what’s wrong? There’s no sense of narrative accumulation. The four main characters establish their positions and then just repeat them, bouncing off one another without really getting anywhere. Yes, the story of the larger world does move inevitably in the direction that Mona says it will, but that’s hardly a revelation.
Within Susan and Rick’s house, nobody is pursuing a clear, sustained, concrete goal. Nobody is figuring out anything new, and that means there’s no thematic reward for the audience. Stephen Drover has dramaturged this script and, in my opinion, he could have done a better job. (Director Roy Surette, playwright Mackie, and the artistic directors of the two producing companies should also have clocked the weaknesses of the script.)
But I did say that there are productions successes. As they always do, Mary Jane Coomber provides a rich sound design. This time out, it’s sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic. And John Webber’s sleekly modernist set is one of those imaginary spaces I’d love to move into.
But theatre in Vancouver really needs to get its dramaturgical act together. The craft of storytelling matters.
HURRICANE MONA By Pippa Mackie. Directed by Roy Surette. On Thursday, November 23. Presented by Touchstone Theatre and Ruby Slippers Theatre at The Cultch until December 3. Tickets
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