A brilliant cocktail of half a cup of societal commentary and half a cup of morbid humor, Better Living certainly isn’t your run-of-the-mill family dramedy.
Written by Canadian playwright George F. Walker and brought to life on the Greystone stage by director Natasha Martina, the play exposes the seedy underbelly of human nature beneath the guise of an ordinary kitchen-sink drama.
The story begins with a bang — literally. The first thing the audience experiences is sitting together awkwardly in a pitch-black room while listening to a rousing chorus of boisterous sex noises set to the tune of “Fight For Your Right” by the Beastie Boys. This hilariously uncomfortable moment alone is enough to secure the play a place in the drama hall of fame. Wonderfully enough, it only gets better from this point.
The plot unfolds inside a ramshackle house with a distinctly post-apocalyptic vibe. It follows the lives of a comically dysfunctional working-class family whose unique and often thoroughly disturbed personalities are captured flawlessly by the cast. The audience is treated to masterful portrayals of eccentric characters such as the neurotic matriarch Nora (Elizabeth Nepjuk), the ne’er-do-well boy-toy Junior (Kyle Kuchirka) and the whiskey-swigging ex-priest Jack (Wade Klassen).
The already questionable sanity of this family is put to the test when a ghost from their past returns to wreak havoc upon the fragile normality they had to piece together in his absence.
The central conflict of Better Living rests on the strapping shoulders of the ex-cop and estranged father Tom (Kashtin Moen), whose favorite hobbies include Jack Daniel’s and emotional abuse. The manner in which his wife and three daughters handle his sudden reappearance serves, strangely enough, as one of the story’s main sources of humour, and the sole reason why the plot contains more twists and turns than the average pretzel.
The story ends on a bit of a confused note, however. It is certainly not a heart-warming Disney conclusion in which all loose ends are tied up in a neat little bow, but a surprise cliffhanger that leaves the viewer with the deflated sensation that perhaps happy endings only belong in children’s stories.
To call the play a dark comedy would be an understatement. The most serious and scandalous of topics are tackled in a manner that somehow makes them seem riotously funny. This is the trademark of both a fantastic playwright and a superb cast — the ability to induce uncontrollable laughter despite the vague aftertaste of shame it may leave in the audience’s mouths.
Better Living addresses issues relevant to society and human nature in a way that is all at once amusing, shocking and thought-provoking.
By shedding light on the comical side of degeneration and encouraging the audience to chuckle at what would ordinarily be the most humourless of scenarios, the drama department’s magnificent show proves that laughter can come out of any situation.
Catch Better Living at Greystone Theatre in the John Mitchell building until Nov. 30. Tickets are available at the door or online at arts.usask.ca/drama/greystone/tickets.php for $20 or $15 for students.
Photo: Gord Waldner/Starphoenix