Melody Anderson’s new play Me and You is sweetly soulful. And it could be better built.
In Me and You, Anderson logs exemplary moments in the lifelong relationship between sisters Liz and Lou. The first time we see them, Liz, who is four years older, is outraged when she realizes that Lou has coloured the elephant in one of their picture books blue. “Mom!” And that sets the dynamic: Liz is literal, controlling, and scientific, and Lou is a free-spirited artist. They also love one another.
Anderson and I are about the same age—old—so the cultural landmarks she references are familiar: the importance of radio in a 50s childhood, the Cuban missile crisis, the countercultural movement of the late 60s, and so on. The specificity of these elements will resonate less for younger audiences no doubt, but the complexities of sibling relationships are timeless and Anderson’s themes—notably feminism—aren’t going out of style anytime soon.
Anderson, who is an experienced mask maker, has designed Me and You to be performed in masks that cover the performers’ faces from just below their eyes to their upper lips. The resulting exaggeration is both innocent and elemental, and performers Patti Allan (Liz) and Lois Anderson (Lou) work the increased focus like the pros they are. Physicality becomes key: the way Liz looks off to the side when she’s in emotional pain, the way Lou’s slouch when she becomes a hippie bespeaks both sensuality and a sense of superiority.
In one of the most hilarious moments in this consistently funny show, Lou admits that she’s planning to return the shoes she’s bought to adorn a corpse. And there are lovely moments of intimacy, too—like when the young Lou asks Liz how the heck she’s supposed to insert a tampon.
Anderson has made the masks and they’re gorgeously detailed. I loved the braces on the pre-teen versions of the characters, for instance.
The success of the physical production is complete. Amir Ofek’s set consists of two walls of drawers that he has painted aquamarine, the most innocent of colours. At crucial junctures, Liz and Lou open the drawers to get set pieces and props—sometimes scaling the drawer handles to get to the right cubby. In a couple of the most beautiful cues, there’s a blue light inside the drawer—Conor Moore did the lighting design—and a new mask that marks the next stage in the life of one of the sisters.
Director Mindy Parfitt has assembled an A-team of Vancouver designers. And she has included lovely moments within the scenes as well: as Lou’s tale of marital woe flows into Liz’s, Lou takes the shawl she has wrapped around her legs and places it over her sister’s shoulders.
My only substantial criticisms of Me and You concern its structure. By the time the siblings were having kids, I was losing interest. That’s because the free spirit/conservative dynamic gets repetitive and not enough is at stake. The quick scenes that Anderson gives us are iconic, but there’s not enough emotional depth to them: we don’t get a sense of how the tensions in their parents’ marriage affect Liz and Lou, for instance.
Even when there’s finally a significant rift between the siblings, it’s not enough to recharge the flagging narrative. And the script suddenly launches into a new convention: Liz and Lou address the audience directly. That’s jarring stylistically. Establishing a couple of moments like this earlier might help.
But then, very late in the play, Death—or at least the threat of mortality—enters and saves the dramaturgical day. The acting in this part of the evening is extraordinary and Me and You finally finds the substance it’s been missing.
ME AND YOU By Melody Anderson. Directed by Mindy Parfitt. An Arts Club Theatre production. On the Goldcorp Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre on Wednesday, April 18. Continues until May 6.