Capilano's Exit 22 theater season debut provokes thinking
Emmalee Watts

Take a step out onto the ledge with local Canadian playwright Morris Panych’s classic 7 Stories. This brilliantly dark comedy is an excellent kick-off to Capilano University’s Exit 22 Productions’ theatre season, opening Oct. 19.

The play, directed by Dawn Moore, is the story of a well-dressed man on the top ledge of a seven-story apartment building contemplating jumping to his death. While on the ledge, he encounters his seventh floor neighbours from their windows, each completely consumed in their own situations and lives, each with their own puzzling personalities and problems. Among these neighbours, he meets a batty psychiatrist, a tightly-wound religious “miracle” worker, and many more characters of the unorthodox variety.

Director Dawn Moore calls Panych a “master of dark humour,” and it’s clear to see why when watching this play. Panych is a Calgary born playwright, actor, and director. He has written numerous plays that have been performed and produced in Canada, the US, and Britain. 7 Stories, one of his earlier plays from 1989, shows us why he went on to win many distinguished awards such as the Chalmer’s Award, the Governer General’s Award and more.

The initial irony of 7 Stories lies within the fact that none of the other characters seem to take any notice, or question why he is out on the ledge. Though the play and story are centered around the man on the ledge, the stories of his neighbours are what seem to form the bulk of the play. Each neighbour brings forth different elements of the man’s character and puts his situation in a new light, perhaps attempting to prove that his problem is just yet another one of life’s many problems. Moore describes the play as a “bent brilliance.”

“It’s about deep issues – life and death issues – ‘What’s the meaning of life?’ and ‘Is life worth living?” … And yet [Panych] approaches it through comedy and through irony,” explains Moore.

It is very true; Panych’s story shines the spotlight on many issues, such as what purpose our lives serve. Questions such as these lie within all aspects of the play: portrayal of the script, the set, and the characters. On top of that, it is a rare treat to see these issues brought forward with such humour and wit. However, they are deep issues that present a challenge to portray, even for the talented actors of the cast.

The cast is a mix of second- and third-year Capilano University theatre students, some making their stage debut with Exit 22 Productions. Moore does an excellent job at coaxing mature performances from her talented young cast; they perform their complicated characters well, making it clear that they understand the complexity of the minds of their personas. From being strangled, to having one last cigarette before getting married, they do it justice. The acting is well-done, genuine and strong. “There are really mature ideas in the play, so I think it’s challenging for second- and third- year students, really, to grapple with some of those issues but this cast has done a great job doing that,” says Moore.

A unique trait and challenge of bringing this script to life was the set. The set is theatrical and suggestive with, literally, quite a small window for the actors to move around in. The shadowy, fragmented set appears as a representation of the nature of the play.

Moore states “You’re limited in terms of the physicality of the space. It’s sort of like working within a poetry form. If you’re writing a haiku or a sonnet, you’ve got that limitation but it also is what stimulates you to be creative in other ways.” The production of the play certainly shines with creativity, using the challenge of the set to pull together a truly unique visual stimulation utilizing mainly shadows and well-choreographed movements.

Overall, each aspect of the play makes the viewing experience brim with non-stop intellectual stimulation and laughs from beginning to end. The interactions and dialogue between the characters certainly leaves a lasting impression. Merging the story of man on the verge of committing suicide with amusing ideas and antics brings a certain twisted light to such typically dark material. 7 Stories will leave you with a grin on your face with much to think about.

// Emmalee Watts, Writer
// Illustration by JJ Brewis

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