Disclaimer: I’m not an educated reviewer I just had some strong reactions to this truly fantastic show and I need to put them somewhere! I saw a few Fringe play this year and this one I haven’t been able to shake…
On Friday, September 15th, I went to The Nest on Granville Island to see The Emigrants by Exact Resemblance Theatre as part of the 39th annual Vancouver Fringe Festival. It was written by Slawomir Mrozek, translated by Henry Beissel, adapted and directed by Cristiana Ripeanu, and starred Jacob Machin and Akshaya Pattanayak. One thing I really enjoy about ‘Fringing’ is how I get to leave expectations at the door and be open to whatever happens for the next 35 to 75 minutes. This left me totally unprepared for the level of depth in storytelling and performance in The Emigrants. I was wowed. I literally said “wow” to myself after the lights came back up in the house. The people behind me may have noticed and laughed except that they had immediately erupted into their own discussion about how affected they were.
First off, it’s a testament to any performers and dramaturgical members that 75 minutes felt like a quick hour. The actors, one of whom I had recently seen in 90 Days (Akshaya Pattanayak, see my review for 90 Days from my Co-op newsletter here in the blog!), were both excellent at riding the level of tension and humour. Between snappy arguments, intense silences and remarkably precise physicality, they seemed to find every type of tension that could exist between two roommates. Oh and let’s not forget to mention that one of the roommates is a political refugee and the other is a foreign labourer. It seems like the tension could stifle the experience, if weren’t for the fabulously discovered moments of humour and joy.
The actors and director have found multiple moments where the whole audience rides from pin-dropping silence to squirming discomfort to laughing hysterics. About halfway through the natural-realist play, Akshaya Pattanayak’s character reveals he has bought the cheapest food at the store to eat, but Jacob Machin’s character tells him that he has in fact bought dog food. In a totally unexpected instant, Akshaya Pattanayak breaks the fourth wall and begins to sincerely implore audience members, “Sir, Ma’am, is this dog food? Have I bought dog food?” and we were either forced to break the truth to him, lie, or turn our heads. When he finally realized what he had done and nonchalantly declared that he just liked the smiling dog on the label, we were all able to swallow and digest our discomfort a little with deep laughter. Moments like this happened often, ‘laughter opening our mouths so that the castor oil of truth could be poured down’ as a teacher of mine used to say. In my opinion this is the most wonderful, powerful theatre.
The play is set in a small basement suite with milk-create furniture, in a a city whose name I never caught but certainly could be Vancouver or a suburb. As the play progressed I felt similar to how had felt when I first read Albee’s Zoo Story combined with my first viewing of Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite combined with a just general electricity of seeing something new at Fringe. There were certainly events and revelations throughout that play that I won’t spoil, but it’s enough to say that each actor’s range is exceptionally displayed. After the ending I was disappointed that Fringe shows don’t leave time for talkbacks, as I was on my own and left with a strong desire to connect and chat with others.
I highly recommend keeping an eye on Exact Resemblance Theatre in case there’s a future opportunity to see this play. Thank you to everyone who worked on it and thank you Vancouver Fringe!