The Canadians

Michael Van Duzer Reviews - Theater

The first image we see in Adam Bock’s new play, The Canadians is Gordy (Kyle T. Hester) shivering in the cold despite his parka, scarves, and gloves. He has his earbuds in and is listening to the Queen of the Night’s first aria. As she starts her stratospheric coloratura runs, he begins to swing his hips. Two friends approach discussing hockey, and he immediately freezes and shuts off the music. When the men ask what he’s listening to, he tells them Metallica.

This funny, sad, and all-too-familiar flash of Gordy’s discomfort tells you all you need to know about being in the closet in Port Alison, Manitoba. Bock’s play is full of these tiny moments of recognition. Tall and taciturn, Gordy seems well-liked at his job in the mayor’s office, but he remains guarded and remote. Except with his friend Brendan (Daniel Chung).

But Brendan has a surprise gift of a pair of tickets he’s been given for a gay cruise, and he wats Gordy to join him. Can Gordy leave the snow and the office politics behind to spend a week aboard a ship with thousands of gay men? He is initially hesitant but finally decides to sieze the opportunity.

Their first day on deck, Gordy meets Wally (Corey Dorris) and Oliver (Linda Gehringer), a long-term male couple who will become his gay spirit guides. Brendan is snapped up by Andy from Manchester (Corey Brill), a genuine party animal. Gordy and Brendan’s week-long adventure will reveal much about themselves and each other.

I’m not familiar with all of Bock’s plays, but The Canadians feels like a change of pace for him. Sunny and optimistic, the play has none of the creeping menace of The Receptionist. Its simple trajectory charts the course of a sweetly bewildered Gordy as he loosens the tight strictures he’s been living under and begins to blossom.

Hester makes a winning Gordy. He’s appropriately wide-eyed and completely clueless about his own appeal. While a daring costume for the ship’s White Party offers him a freedom he’s never experienced, he finds he’s content to be a small-town boy. With the story focused so closely on Gordy, Chung’s Brendan has less to play with, but he makes his moments count, particularly his expressive reactions.

Dorris makes a hilariously opinionated Wally, while Gehringer is perfection as the worldly-wise Oliver. They are equally strong playing Gordy’s boss and one of his co-workers in the office. Brill makes a handsomely vapid Andy but shines most in the Canadian scenes as the excitable and contentious Trish.

Jaime Castaneda directs the show with a light hand and avoids the trap of allowing the performances to move into caricature. His job is helped by Lauren Helpern’s sleek, white set which, with help from Yee Eun Nam’s projections, easily shifts from the snowy expanses of Manitoba to the modern curves of a cruise liner. Denitsa Blitznakova’s costumes also do much to help delineate character, particularly in the roles that are doubled.

The Canadians is a small-scale, 80-minute charmer that is worth investigating.

South Coast Repertory    October 4 – October 20, 2019