House and Home
When: To Jan. 25
Where: Firehall Arts Centre
Tickets & Info: From $20 at firehallartscentre.ca
When: To Feb. 1
Where: Pacific Theatre
Tickets & Info: $38/$16 at pacifictheatre.org
With Vancouverites so focused on the cost of housing and the difficulty of finding adequate accommodation, it’s not surprising that two new plays by local playwrights share those concerns. Maki Yi’s solo show Gramma is set in Regina but resonates strongly with House and Home by Jenn Griffin, a satirical tale of multiple characters struggling with the absurdities of owning and renting, home and homelessness in our town.
Hilary (Jillian Fargey), a social worker on stress leave, and Butoh dancer turned underachieving lawyer Henry (Andrew Wheeler) own a Vancouver “fixer-upper.” To keep their house from bankrupting them, they’ll evict their young basement tenant Wren (Kimberly Ho) and her militant girlfriend Marika (Darian Roussy) and go with “short-term rentals.”
Hilary is not really OK with that. She’s such a bleeding heart she even insists that their plague of rats be live-captured and relocated. The Aboriginal rat-catcher (very funny Sam Bob) comments on the characters’ dilemmas, including reminders that their drama is taking place on unceded First Nations land.
Sebastien Archibald is also terrifically funny as a slimy real estate agent, a homeless man, and a deranged techie who Airbnb’s Hilary and Henry’s bedroom and sublets the backyard yurt they’ve fixed up to house Wren and Marika.
The two girls struggle with political and work issues as well as housing. But the play’s excellent key scene — which arrives too late and is followed by too much more rambling — belongs to Hilary and Henry, who find themselves sleeping in their car. She wonders how they got to be childless homeless homeowners and predatory landlords.
With projections between scenes reminding us of Vancouver’s grotesquely increasing rents, the play finally finds its heart in Hilary’s epiphany about the difference between a house and home, and the responsibilities she owes the “babies” sheltering under her roof.
Director Donna Spencer and the excellent cast do a fine job with this smart but overwritten play.
Gramma is a spinoff of Maki Yi’s autobiographical Suitcase Stories produced by Pacific Theatre in 2016. A Korean student come to Regina to attend university, Maki boards in the basement of a home belonging to an elderly white woman she calls Gramma. Yi plays both roles, speaks directly to the audience, and acts out a Korean myth about family, blindness, and understanding.
The play begins as a Cinderella story. In lieu of rent Maki cooks, cleans and serves Gramma’s personal needs. But Gramma is a tyrant, hypercritical and cheap. Scurrying back and forth from her dimly lit, freezing basement room to take care of Gramma, Maki gets nothing but complaints and humiliation. Her life is a nightmare.
She regrets leaving her Korean family and replays her relationship with her parents through the myth of a blind father and loyal daughter. But when Gramma suddenly has to move into a nursing home, Maki abruptly realizes she was selfish. She was blind. Gramma gave her a home that she never properly appreciated.
Director Laura McLean lets Yi repeat herself too often in open-mouthed exasperation at each of the many incidents involving Gramma. The reversal occurs too quickly and Maki’s guilt feels inappropriate to what Gramma made her suffer.
But the gist of both these plays is the powerful pull of “home,” psychologically and emotionally, notwithstanding the rats and expense and indignities.