Dylan Smith’s condo developer raises timely social issues in Soulless
SOULLESS by Aaron Bushkowsky, directed by Kelly Straughan (505 Productions). At Factory Studio (125 Bathurst). To November 23. Pwyc-$20. 416-504-9971. Rating: NNN
Not only are condos invading our skylines, but their presence is being felt in theatre now, too.
Vancouver playwright Aaron Bushkowsky's Soulless is a modern-day whodunit set against the backdrop of urban development - and condo culture in particular.
The story centres around Bob (Dylan Smith), a stressed-out, irritable middle-aged condo developer who gets charged in connection with a suspicious death at his construction site. The narrative darts back and forth in time to explore the social causes and effects of the fatality.
Even though Soulless centres on Bob, the strongest character is Darren (Christian Bellsmith), his outspoken client-turned-lawyer, a truth-spinning shyster à la Nick Naylor in Thank You For Smoking or The Simpsons' Lionel Hutz. Bellsmith amps Darren's steamroller personality to the max, making him a character we love to hate.
The play probes the question of what should be done with older, poorer populations displaced by burgeoning urban gentrification. Embodying this issue is Claire (Jane Moffat), an elderly activist who haunts Bob's construction site in protest.
Bushkowsky contrasts her with Gerald (Ryan Kelly), a bitchy metrosexual hipster who admits to embracing his soul-sucking job selling condos because it affords him certain creature comforts. When he starts shamelessly snapping photos of Claire for an "art" project, the play comments powerfully on the exploitive, fickle and Faustian nature of progress.
But soap opera plot elements work against Soulless's intellectual side. Bizarre love triangles, freak accidents and plenty of melodrama trivialize the serious social questions.
Director Kelly Straughan does a good job with pace and blocking, and in certain scenes expertly combines sound, lights and physicality to create the tension-building illusion that characters are actually standing close to the edge on top of an unfinished skyscraper.