Review: Party This Weekend

I spent last Saturday night stuck next to a total douchebag at a house party, although it was a lot more fun than you might think.

Party This Weekend, an interactive site-specific play put on by Scarlet Satin Productions and the House Party Collective, is unlike anything seen in Vancouver since the long-running Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding finally settled down for good.

Andrew Baker plays Cameron Stone in the interactive Party This Weekend.

It’s not the sort of play you to go see for the story (quite the opposite, in fact) but rather for the way it’s told.

Performed inside (and occasionally outside) at an unassuming East Side bungalow, it requires Party-goers to choose one of four twenty-something main characters – Lara (“the helplessly Type-A hostess”), Derek (“the quirky, withdrawn artist”), Vivian (“the socially clueless chatterbox”) or Cameron (the aforementioned “douchebag”) – and spend the next hour and a half following them from room to room during a surprise birthday party.

There are several sides to the story, written collaboratively by four different playwrights, but audience members only get to see one of them as they are kept on their feet moving through a raucous bash fleshed out with a supporting cast of a dozen more actors.

Like all good parties, it also requires people to loosen up and chat with complete strangers, including at times the actors themselves. (Unlike most good parties, however, there’s no booze available to help get in the mood, so plan accordingly.)

The eight of us who made up Team Cameron first assembled on the front lawn, making small talk before our actor for the evening (Andrew Baker) arrived barking into a Blackberry and clutching a bottle of expensive scotch.

It quickly became clear, as we watched him catching up with his old buddy Brij (an intense Michael Coen Chase) on the front stoop that Cameron probably isn’t the sort of person you’d want to invite to a party of your own.

Arrogant and off-handedly insulting to pretty much everyone he interacts with as the night progresses, Baker still manages to hint at his character’s loneliness and vulnerability buried under the toxic personality. He’s a manipulative jerk, but Baker makes it seem that this selfish pretty boy is also simply afraid of letting people get too close, even the very girl he’s after.

As for the performances of the other leads, I honestly couldn’t tell you. The acting all seemed uniformly strong in the scenes I witnessed (although sobriety levels among some seemed to go up and down a bit) and everybody seemed undeterred by the fact that they were surrounded by a gaggle of gawkers. The tricky timing required for characters to simultaneously change scenes and settings also seemed to go off without a hitch under the capable direction of recent UBC grad Laura McLean.

But of course, like everyone, I only saw a fraction of the show. It would take at least three more visits to get the complete picture and find out what happened to, say, the birthday girl’s shoes or the missing jar of cash. Or why someone was crying in the alley and what the pizza delivery guy was still doing there.

Party This Weekend doesn’t just break the fourth wall, it kicks it over and takes the audience conga dancing into the next room. They’ve even taken the whole thing Meta with characters writing blog postings and, of course, creating a Facebook page.

Tickets are $15 per show or for $40 four nights, available in advance at partythisweekend.ca. If you can’t make all four, there’s at least a good chance someone in another room will be live tweeting the action on their phone – hopefully with the ringer turned off. It’s still a theatre performance, after all.

(This review was first published July 27, 2011. © Copyright (c) Vancouver Courier)

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