Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
The CanadiansSouth Coast Repertory
Also see Terry's review of Red Thread
Brendan (Daniel Chung) and Gordy (Kyle T. Hester) work at the mayor's office in a small town in Manitoba. Their co-workers know that they are gay, but they both try not to advertise that fact. Gordy, in fact, plays hockey and pals around with other hockey players, sometimes taking part in "guy talk," much of which is aimed at evaluating women as potential sex partners. "Gay" is not an unheard-of term in townthere's even a lesbian bar and gossip about those who go there.
When a relative of Brendan's takes ill and can't go on a gay Caribbean cruise, Brendan and Gordy go instead. It is the first such large-scale gay event that either has attended, and both are excited to goand with each other. Once on the cruise ship, Brendan and Gordy meet up with Oliver (Linda Gehringer) and Wally (Corey Dorris), a couple from Rockford, Illinois, who take a winter vacation each year on this particular cruise. They indicate a desire to mentor Brendan and Gordy, but Brendan is quickly picked up by muscle-man Andy (Corey Brill) and reappears only occasionally. Gordy is left to mope in his deck chair and listen to his mentors tell him about the fun he is missing.
Eventually, the mentors persuade Gordy to participate in the ship's "White Party" and dress him up for the occasion, an event that not only breaks the ice, but which also carries over into Gordy's relationships back home.
A pretty standard story about a young gay man coming out of his shell is helped by cross-gender performances from the other three cast members (Ms. Gehringer plays the town mayor; Mr. Dorris and Mr. Brill play warring work colleagues). But, that's the best twist in an otherwise standard production directed by Jaime Castañeda. A lot of the problem is with Mr. Bock's script, which takes gay culture for granted, presents everything about the cruise as "usual, customary and ordinary," and, with the exception of Andy the hunk, presents the gay male characters as wise, loving, and successful being who they are. That's not terrible, but it's also mostly a fantasy. More reality would liven up the 80-minute production.
The spare physical production needs to accommodate both Manitoba in winter and a cruise ship plying the waters of the Caribbean. Lauren Helpern's scenic design makes white walls, a blue backdrop, and falling stuff (of both the winter and party varieties) work, with cast members rolling on set pieces. Denitsa Bliznakova's costumes feature parkas and a "White Party" outfit that's pretty over-the-top. Josh Epstein's sound design and Cricket S Myers' sound design are both more than serviceable.
Cast members do their best with what they are given. Mr. Chung and Mr. Hester make sweet work colleagues who "everyone knows" should be a couple. Likewise, "everyone knows" that Mr. Dorris and Mr. Brill's characters' bickering is really a lovers' quarrel. Ms. Gehringer gets to play two men and a woman, all of whom are warm and loving people. She does so expertly.
With additional work, The Canadians could go from earthbound to heavenly.
The Canadians runs through October 20, 2019, at South Coast Repertory, Julianne Argyros Stage, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa CA. Performances are Tuesdays through Sundays at 7:45 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets and information are available by calling 714-708-5555 or by visiting www.scr.org.