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Ominous Sounds at the River Crossing: There are no bridges

by | Mar 11, 2022 | Review | 0 comments

publicity photo for Ominous Sounds by Jason Sherman

Monice Peter, Angela Chu, and Alex Poch-Goldin (Photo by Matt Reznek)

Especially if you’re over 50, don’t bother with this play; you don’t have that much good time left.

Jason Sherman’s new script Ominous Sounds at the River Crossing; or, Another Fucking Dinner Party Play is funny — but only for about the first ten minutes. After that, there’s another hour and 45 to go — without a break — and the chairs at Performance Works turn into torture racks. (Seriously. I could barely ride my bike home.)

So, if you’ve already bought tickets, enjoy that opening sequence! Six actors enter the stage tentatively. Everybody’s afraid to speak and we soon understand why: they all terrified of causing offence. They can’t decide how to determine what pronouns to use or how to talk about race — or not talk about it. They can’t even decide if they should take a vote on whether they should take a vote.

The characters are taking their absurd situation seriously and, theatrically, that tension works. Besides, their anxiety is recognizable: the shifting cultural landscape can be unnerving, especially to those of us who have been used to barging about oblivious to our privilege. And Sherman gives his satire an existentialist boost: with a nod to Jean-Paul Sartre, the actors have entered the stage but there is no exit.

Then the script goes off a cliff: it gets ham-fisted — and the evening never recovers.

Sherman’s six characters are all actors and they’re trying to figure out what kind of show they’re allowed to create and perform. They’re nostalgic for the good old days of Shakespearean kings and queens, but they want their work to be relevant. So they take a stab at performing a piece about oppressed Chinese workers making cell phones. But they give that up when the lone Asian cast member points out that it’s not a great idea, especially for non-Chinese actors, to adopt insulting accents or create shows about experiences that are completely foreign to them — not to mention under-researched.

Fair enough, but not exactly nuanced — and not funny. One guy says one line in a bad accent. If you’re going to go for transgressive laughs, go for them, I say, make the audience complicit and uncomfortable, but Ominous Sounds is too timid for that.

Besides, it repeats itself and I think it’s reactionary.

The actors try another couple of plays, but it’s always the same: nothing is good enough, pure enough. And who carries too much of the burden of pointing this out? The young Asian actor, who becomes the villain of the piece, the thought police. She gets a speech at the end that might be seen as conciliatory but, even then, it would be too little too late.

And, while I understand that this is satire and necessarily exaggerated, it still bugs me that so many of the “problems” in this play are straw dogs. The old guard is relentlessly pitted against the rising new generation, represented by this one young woman. Legitimate and necessary strategies of inclusion — in writing, casting, and all levels of administration and production — are never discussed. Co-existence is never discussed. Unlike in real life, there is zero authentic intergenerational dialogue. So, to me, Ominous Soundsfeels like a long, dull complaint about legitimate change.

Fortunately, there’s some solid acting in this production. Kerry Sandomirsky, who is a Vancouver favourite, and Monice Peter, whom I’ve never seen before, both deliver mature work — witty and emotionally grounded. And, playing both an actor who keeps putting his foot in his mouth and a wounded character, Alex Poch-Goldin displays impressive range.

But the play’s six central characters still feel like they’re in search of an author.

OMINOUS SOUNDS AT THE RIVER CROSSING; OR, ANOTHER FUCKING DINNER PARTY PLAY By Jason Sherman. Directed by Roy Surette. Produced by Touchstone Theatre. At Performance Works production running at Performance Works on Thursday, March 10. Running until March 13. Tickets


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