There are things I liked in Someone Like You, but so many more that I didn’t that it’s going to take a while to get there.
Mostly what bugged me is that I felt like playwright Christine Quintana was cutting my meat for me. So much of her script is predetermined and prescriptive that there wasn’t a lot of room left for me to engage with its ideas as a freethinking grown-up.
A new script commissioned by the Arts Club, Someone Like You is a contemporary retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac set in Vancouver. So, instead of a guy with a long nose (Cyrano) wooing Roxane on behalf of the young cadet Christian, we have a fat woman named Isabelle wooing Harjit for her roomie Kristin.
From the beginning, we know exactly where this is going, Isabelle has to end up with Harjit, so watching the delaying tactics of the long first act quickly gets tedious. My companion left at intermission.
Act 1 is made even more difficult by the fact that Quintana and director Jivesh Parasram have substituted noise and insults for buoyancy and wit.
Especially in the set-up between the two women, Isabelle (Steffanie Davis) and Kristin (Jasmine Chen) deliver way too much of their text at high volume. Chen’s voice starts to feel like a drill. Parasram is responsible for this exaggerated tone.
And it’s not like the script’s “banter” is clever. Isabelle spits out a stream of jokes about what a useless town Vancouver is, for instance, full of political posers who don’t follow through. I can understand the character’s performance of superiority as a defensive tactic, but there’s not much more to Isabelle at this point, so she just comes off as annoying. It doesn’t help that Davis delivers much of this material with a mannered, smart-ass attitude — although, to be fair, she’s just inhabiting the script’s condescension.
And there’s no emotional reality base in the relationship between the two women. Yes, we see them drunk together in flashbacks, but that’s just a trope. Kristin cries about her abusive boyfriend Devon, but her distress is loud and comic.
It’s not until Harjit arrives that anybody shows any real vulnerability. Harjit, who grew up in Red Deer, is used to spending time with his family, and he moved to Vancouver at the beginning of Covid, so he’s feeling pretty isolated. When Isabelle shows up in a park to tell him that Kristen is going to bail on their first date, actor Praneet Akilla delivers the line, “It’s nice to talk to someone,” with a moving catch in his voice.
Act 2, which is much shorter, is also more successful than Act 1. Isabelle and Harjit start to acknowledge their love, so that logjam is finally broken. And a late passage in which Isabelle struggles to truly open her heart — to really believe that love is possible for her — is so moving it brought tears to my eyes.
The honesty of Davis’s delivery is crucial to this success. And I’ve got to say that, throughout the evening, even when I disliked the text, her vivacity and confidence as a performer were gifts.
Akilla makes Harjit a reliably human presence and he has a sweet sense of comic timing.
In spurts, Act 2 is also more theatrical than Act 1. There’s a sequence, for instance, in which Isabelle and Harjit decide to rescue Kristin from Devon, whom she’s moved back in with: the couch they’ve been sitting on turns into a car, with headlights and taillights peeking out from under its skirts, and they use their feet to propel their instant vehicle across the stage.
Still, the script is overly instructive. Isabelle teaches Harjit that it’s okay to use the word “fat” when describing fat people. She directly addresses their shared otherness and inherent worth: “You are handsome and you are brown,” she says, “I am beautiful and I am fat.” Isabelle has other lessons and not many of them are fresh: “Yes, we are culturally obsessed with romance. We have built a whole economy around heterosexual monogamy.” Even Kristin gets in on the action. After Isabelle and Harjit’s attempted intervention, she delivers a quick lecture to the audience, advising us about the dangers of attempting similar interventions in real life.
It’s all so dutiful and predetermined. There’s virtually no subtext. The script is heavy on descriptive monologues and illustrative scenes.
Characters explain rather than reveal themselves.
I share the politics of Someone Like You. I just wish they weren’t presented on a plate. I wish Quintana had loosened her grip and left more room for thematic discovery and theatrical adventure.
SOMEONE LIKE YOU By Christine Quintana. Directed by Jivesh Parasram. On Friday, October 13. An Arts Club Production on the Newmont Stage at the BMO Centre Theatre until October 29. Tickets
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