‘Describe My Lonely’ flips the script on relationships

Michael Bell (left) and Melissa Taylor (right) star in Describe My Lonely, a Catador Theatre production. Photo by Graham Macaulay

Michael Bell (left) and Melissa Taylor (right) star in Describe My Lonely, a Catador Theatre production. Photo by Graham Macaulay

If you’ve ever wanted to experience a piece of theatre again to catch all the things you missed, Describe My Lonely’s unique concept offers a compelling reason to do so. The play is the latest example of a vibrant independent theatre scene in Victoria. Produced by Laura Simons of Victoria Fringe-winning Catador Theatre, Describe My Lonely opened Tuesday night to an enthusiastic crowd of 45 that filled Intrepid Theatre. The show is UVic-driven, written by MFA student Robbie Huebner, directed by fifth-year Writing and Theatre student Colette Habel, and stage-managed by alumnus Ian Simms.

The two-act play relies on a central twist: Each act is a version of the same monologue delivered by Cooper, represented as female (Melissa Taylor) in Act One, and as male (Michael Bell) in Act Two. Tonight and tomorrow’s performances will switch the order and feature Bell first, so audiences are in for an interesting variation of perspective depending on which night they attend.

In the female version, a break-up with ex-boyfriend Trevor spurs Cooper’s monologue. In her post-Trevor state, Cooper recounts her recent day of three blind dates, and Taylor does a phenomenal job of inhabiting all the characters — her dates, the waiter, her friend Claudia — in the reenactment. Huebner’s skill at rich character creation shines; each has a distinguishing feature, be it an aloof accent or a restless leg.

In the male version of Cooper’s story, parts of the monologue remain unchanged while others are altered, including the gender of all characters. The intention of the switch and its impact on the character relationships is sometimes unclear. Other changes, too, leave me wondering. For example, the women drink wine and the men drink beer: is it stereotype or commentary? The ambiguity is no doubt intentional, though it leaves viewers questioning.

Cooper’s manic tendencies and struggle to overcome their flaws comes across differently in the male and female incarnations. Taylor’s version reads as insecure and endearing; Bell’s Cooper exudes confidence while still socially inept. It says something about how men and women are viewed. Emotional beats land differently as well. The moment of deepest gravitas for female Cooper, during a meeting with ex Trevor, is played with more levity by Bell. Such differences showcase the fascinating contrast between two actors’ interpretation of the same script, regardless of gender.

The play’s integration of technology is a compelling and fresh observation of how devices have fundamentally changed the way people form relationships. When Cooper goes through a morning routine of internet-browsing, Habel’s translation of technology to the stage and the incorporation of sound by Zoe Wessler are particularly engaging.

While the commentary is up for interpretation, the quirk and charm of Describe My Lonely are certainly worth the two hours. Huebner’s language is playfully verbose, the voice tightly crafted and packed with clever turns-of-phrase. The invented names of stores, websites, books, and games are a highlight — who wouldn’t want to meet for a date at Whooping Coffee?

Describe My Lonely runs until Jan. 22 at Intrepid Theatre Club. Reserve tickets by emailing catadortheatre@gmail.com.

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