Review: Lowest Common Denominator by Zee Zee Theatre
Zee Zee Theatre is a company that exists to tell stories in the lives of the marginalized. It is perhaps no surprise then that their latest work, Lowest Common Denominator, touches on any number of broad society truisms- mother knows best, age is just a number, true love is blind– and utterly ravages them.
Playwright Dave Deveau crafts a world very much like our own: one where right and wrong are not absolutes, but matters of perspective, opinion, and outcome (although in his world, people are much more clever, witty, and hilarious). Into this palette of greys he paints three characters whose lives become quickly entangled: Harmony- a middle-aged divorcee, her 17 year-old song Trevor- who accidentally comes out in the play’s opening moments, and her insurance agent Peter.
The work’s catalytic event is a nervous, boozy dinner between Harmony and Peter that the former believes to be a date. The misconception is addressed when she invites the insurance agent home and he informs Harmony that he is, in fact, gay. Perhaps due to the awkwardness, the duo escalate consumption and return to Harmony’s home to spite-drink a few of her ex-husband’s expensive bottles. A tipsy Trevor returns home, one thing leads to another, and Harmony ultimately discovers a 47 year old insurance agent making out with her teenage son. Chaos, romance, and war ensue.
Deborah Williams gives a tour de force performance as Harmony. She wholly embodies a complex character who flits between middle-age insecurity and neediness, motherly nurturing, and elemental fury.
As her son, Dallas Sauer is coy, sensual, and almost feline in manner. He seems remarkably mature for 17, a sentiment Deveau has Peter express at the exact moment it will occur to most audiences. The maturity is a facade however, which Sauer occasionally drops to expose the uncertainty and over-eagerness in Trevor’s teenage heart.
Shawn Macdonald brings a similarly nuanced approach to Peter. In the presence of Harmony he is a bundle of fidgety nerves, which we might assume to be his nature until a calm, confident personality emerges when alone with Trevor. While he makes his choices and stands by them, a sense of discomfort and compromise remains present in Macdonald’s deep, soulful eyes.
Praise must also be given to the cast for their performances in the boozy first act. ‘Acting drunk’ is truly one of the hardest things to do on stage, but each actor managed to avoid the pitfalls and achieve verisimilitude.
Director Cameron Mackenzie has the trio working together as an intimate, cohesive unit, driving the play forward with crackling, kinetic energy. While the script is full of blistering, caustic humour, it is also full heavy, ponderous themes that could slow the momentum. To break this tension and maintain the bubbling pace, Mackenzie transitions from scene to scene by having the cast break character in cheeky, stylized vignettes and slightly silly dance numbers.
The culmination of it all is a work that will have you laughing loudly and constantly while in the house (indeed, I was concerned for the health of fellow theatre-goers at certain points) and questioning your values the moment you step outside.
Lowest Common Denominator runs until March 30 at PAL Studio Theatre.