Street sense

VACANCY created and performed by the company, directed by Charles Roy. Presented by the Creative Ensemble in association with Peter McKinnon at 372 Dufferin (south of Queen). Runs to May 21, Wednesday-Friday 8 pm, Saturday 8 and 11 pm. $20, stu/srs/sex trade workers $10. 416-505-4619. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN

Vacancy’s performers take you for a walk on the wild side of an impoverished area of 80s Vancouver.

The 18 writer/actors who make up the Creative Ensemble, recent York grads, remount this piece about a neighbourhood from which dozens of women disappeared over a period of years.

If it sounds familiar, the situation also inspired Marie Clements’s The Unnatural And Accidental Women, which Native Earth and Buddies staged last November.

In Vacancy, though, the split focus is on the men and women who live in the area, those who police it and those who want to clean it up.

It’s a sometimes harrowing, intentionally multi-faceted production, designed by Laura Gardner and lit by Jason Hand . The audience, standing for the 90-minute show, is guided through multiple playing areas in a dingy, pillar-filled warehouse space.

Prostitutes, addicts, johns, academics and city planners present us with different viewpoints about the neighbourhood called Low Track by its residents. Don’t be surprised if you’re pulled into the action at some point.

The environment is marvellous, and director Charles Roy makes good use of it, but the script is sometimes overwritten, awkward rather than engaging, especially in its more lyrical, imagistic flights. Some narratives and characters are better developed than others, but that’s not surprising given the number of stories.

Several performances stand out, including those of Sarah Dineen as a developmentally challenged woman, Julia Ainsworth as a sharp-tongued sex worker, Tom Kerr as a sensitive, poetry-reciting policeman who uses a pack of gum to help in his work and Cassandra Togneri as a young hooker he protects.

The most haunting is Sadie St. Denis , caught in a plastic-and-graffiti limbo, a ghostly victim of the area’s faceless, murderous monster. There’s a directness and simplicity in her work that lingers long after the audience leaves the warehouse.

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