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The Cull: Focus!

by | Jan 11, 2022 | Review | 0 comments

Stephen Lobo: More of this guy (and his character) please.

What world are we in?

The Cull, which was written by Michele Riml and Michael St. John Smith, and which is being presented as an audio play, starts off as a bougie sitcom. Nicole and her husband Paul are hosting a dinner party — in their 12,000-square-foot house — to celebrate the twenty-fifth wedding anniversary of their not wealthy friends Emily and Lewis. Lynne, a close friend from their youth, is also there with her husband John, who is seriously rich. The three couples banter and set up the rules for the evening: no phones, no business talk, no politics … “a little bit of sex is okay.”

The dialogue is packed with evocative details — the quince jelly, the expensive chandelier, the class tensions and hints of personal history — but, even though the characters find one another hilarious, the banter isn’t witty enough to sustain itself on that level and the set-up of the plot takes too long. Thirty-three minutes into the 105-minute running time, I wrote in my notebook, “I don’t care about any of this.”

Then the script veers into a more seriously tension-driven version of naturalism. Wealthy John is developing a retreat on orchard property owned by his wife Lynne. Paul wants in on the deal and John sets out to snare Lewis as well. (Yes, the money games play out primarily among the males.) Because John is so obviously sinister and controlling — I wondered why anybody would even have dinner with him — I wasn’t particularly invested in these dynamics.

And, as the style of The Cull bounces from sitcom to a kind of melodrama, its thematic explorations also churn up an uneasy mix. Early on, the text raises concerns about climate change and consumerism. Emily says, “It’s scary how the fires are every summer now.” And John accuses Nicole of being a climate hypocrite: her napkins are made from sustainable bamboo, but she’s still a rapacious consumer.

Rather than centring the climate crisis, however, the plot ultimately turns on that old standby, the possibility of marital infidelity. You could argue, I suppose, that there’s a metaphor here for the self-interest of capitalism but, for me, the ultimate focus is still disappointingly cliché.

That said, the script contains a speech that hints at more interesting possibilities: Lewis, who’s an outdoorsman, describes finding a live female wolf who’s been caught in a leghold trap as part of a cull. His description is arresting: visceral, not fully articulate but almost mystical. I wanted more of this. I wanted more of Lewis. I longed for a more serious challenge to John, who dominates the current draft of The Cull in every way, including its setting, plot concerns, and explicit arguments.

To realize this script, director Mindy Parfitt has assembled an all-star cast, including Jasmine Chen (Lynne), Meghan Gardiner (Nicole), Andrew McNee (Paul), Dawn Petten (Emily), and co-writer Michael St. John Smith (John). But it’s Stephen Lobo who impresses the most as Lewis. Lobo has done a lot of film and TV work and he brings that much-needed level of subtlety to his performance.

In many ways, the writing in The Cull is both ambitious and skilled. I wish it were also more focused and daring.

And I wish that, in presenting this audio play, director Parfitt had paid a more attention to the audio environment. That’s the medium we’re in, after all. There are a few crickets here, but that’s about it.

THE CULLby Michele Riml and Michal St. John Smith. Directed by Mindy Parfitt. Produced by the Arts Club Theatre as part of the Listen To This audio play series. Available free online until July 4. Tickets


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