Thursday, October 24, 2013

Review: (Vancouver) Armstrong's War

Matreya Scarrwener, Mik Byskov (photo by David Cooper)

Powerful performance by Matreya Scarrwener
Simple story about the power of stories
by David C. Jones
It takes awhile to get going but Armstrong’s War delivers some powerful and hopeful moments and a surprisingly effective performance by Grade 10 student Matreya Scarrwener.

Ms Scarrwener is one half of Colleen Murphy adroitly written drama about a wheelchair bound Pathfinder trying to collect her Community Service badge by reading stories to a wounded solider back from the Middle East. It teeters close to ‘Hallmark movie of the week’ but manages to stay clever and holds a couple of surprises.

Director Mindy Parfitt has cast actors who would be the age of their characters and she also has to navigate some of the more predictable turns in the script, which she manages with a light but truthful touch.

The soldier is gruff and doesn’t want the little girl around. Is anyone going to be surprised when her perky can-do attitude finally wins him over? Another small problem with the show is they often read passages of the books out loud and although she is funny as she plays out the characters a lot of these scenes start to drag on.

The production is handsome, costumes by Carmen Alatorre, lights by Conor Moore, and sound by Candelario Andrade. The set by Naomi Sider is the convalescing room that the soldier resides in and it is indicative and sterile. During some of the reading moments your mind wanders to questions like: how come his room doesn’t have a TV? why is the room shaped that way? several weeks pass, why does no one collect the soda cans by the garbage? what’s on the forth wall?

Mik Byskov plays the solider and he is handsome, has a strong build and lots of tattoos. As the play progresses and as the two start to bicker, pushing past each other's comfort zones, he is dynamic and connected. The two actors play off each other beautifully and the themes about hope being a weapon as well as the power of stories to alternately heal and avoid resonate.

It’s in his scenes, where we have to delve into his psyche about a trauma he endured during the war, that Byskov needs to go deeper and not rely on theatrics. He has to talk to an invisible person who is haunting him for a very painful and complicated reason. It’s tricky stuff for a young actor to tackle.

In the end I really admired the script and the production. It sidesteps any obvious melodramatic moments with a quick joke or a surprising sharp turn and it provides warm and thoughtful moments to make this little story about two unlikely friends a very lovely evening of theatre.

And that little girl is a firecracker!

Also see: Culture Vulture (David C. Jones) chat with performers in Hedwig and The Angry Inch running until November 5th.

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