And we rock
Because it's us against them
We found our own reasons to sing
And it's so much less confusing
When lines are drawn like that
Most people have a favourite band or artist, music that came into their life at a point where it was needed and acquired an almost religious resonance. For the character Graham Isador plays in Situational Anarchy, that band was Against Me! and the artist was Laura Jane Grace. Tragically many artists are unable to bear the weight of our expectations and when they fail us, or in this case are perceived to "sell out," it is devastating.
Isador begins with a backstory that is close to observational stand-up. Filled with the self-deprecating humour that gets laughter from recognition, Isador paints the arc of finding oneself through belonging and then the pain of losing that sense of belonging. That his story ranges from Céline Dion through the "coolest place in the Greater Niagara Region" to anarchist punk and finally a slow living death courtesy of TD Bank. He also keeps a firm grip on a balance of clever comedy, Situational Anarchy is a very funny show, and lacerating pain.
Isador is no stranger to a well-constructed narrative having written many entertaining and absorbing stories for Vice. Fortunately, perhaps because it appears to be so personal, he avoids for the most part any hipster snark and all of the irony is self-reflective, the kinds of nasty laughs that make one wince with empathy. With his wide but deadpan eyes and effective body language, Isador is a strong communicator and a compelling storyteller. Isador is ably aided by a subtle and a mood-enhancing soundscape by Ron Kelly, lurking just on the edge of audible or overwhelming with brash punk bravado.
Not having seen the hit Summerworks first incarnation, I can't vouch for the contributions of director/dramaturges Tom Arthur Davis (They Say He Fell) and Jivesh Parasram, but Situational Anarchy fits together with clockwork metaphors. Aside from a few word tics and one awkward transition, it is seamless. Even the deflating ending, which is just what it should be, inspires melancholy rather than a sense of being cheated. The lighting scheme by Laura Warren is overly ambitious so thematically apt for the otherwise perfect stage at Stop Drop and Roll. And the setting takes the metaphor of a solo performer longing to become a member of a band and drives it powerfully home.
Isador makes a point early on of stating that his problems with Laura Jane Grace have nothing to do with her transition. Yet the producers, and Isador himself, are turning the profits from this production over to the Trans Lifeline and Gender is Over, two trans support organizations. There are two moments where sexual ambiguity or non-conformity are touched on - a crush on a music store clerk and his assailants shouting "Faggot!" during a harrowing passage - and the overarching narrative dovetails closely to a gay or trans coming of age chronicle. I'm not going to speculate on anyone involved's sexual or gender identification, as the genius of Situational Anarchy is that it renders such speculation pointless, what Isador is going for is the pain of anyone, everyone, who feels outside of societal norms.
When the character discovers Against Me!'s "Those Anarcho Punks are Mysterious" (quoted above) and the Against Me! message boards, he exults that "Maybe there is a place in the world for me." And that is a feeling that I am sure all of us can identify with.
Situational Anarchy continues until Sat, June 3 at Stop Drop and Roll, 300 College St. pandemictheatre.ca