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review

Kayvon Khoshkam in a scene from Buffoon.Mark Halliday/Handout

  • Title: Buffoon
  • Written by: Anosh Irani
  • Director: Lois Anderson
  • Actors: Kayvon Khoshkam alternating with Andrew McNee
  • Company: The Arts Club Theatre Company
  • Venue: Granville Island Stage
  • City: Vancouver

Rating:

3.5 out of 4 stars

You walk into the theatre to find a single chair on the stage – metal, silver, simple. Today, though, your attention is trained on the other seats, those facing it, one of which you are about to occupy. You are back at Vancouver’s beloved Granville Island Stage. Shuttered since March, it is open again, its seats physically distanced and sparsely filled with a very friendly opening night (well, afternoon) crowd. Many in the audience know each other. It feels festive, like a reunion. “Everybody’s here!” someone says, through a mask. “So happy to see you!”

Theatre in COVID-19 times.

The lights go down. When they come back up, a man in a beige jumpsuit with a white face cowers in a corner of the off-kilter set. If the white makeup (it’s chalk, he tells us) suggests a clown, things don’t appear to be very funny.

As this character – whose name, we will learn, is Felix – addresses his audience, his shadow looms large on the back wall of the clever set. “To be honest, I don’t have much to say,” he announces.

Actually, he does.

Khoshkam transforms from Felix to the people in his orbit with a mobility and depth that astonish.Mark Halliday/Handout

What are we in for? Over 80 minutes, with the performance of one actor – Kayvon Khoshkam, at the show I saw – Amir Ofek’s cleverly claustrophobic set turns into a whole world: an epic tale of love and betrayal, triumph and loss, connection and abandonment – the human story.

There is almost nothing I want to tell you about Buffoon, which opened at the Arts Club Theatre Company in Vancouver on Oct. 28, because one of the things I most enjoyed about my afternoon was the ride: taking a trip to and through the unknown, steered by a multilayered script and a magnificent performance.

Buffoon, a one-person, one-act play, is written by the Vancouver-based novelist and playwright Anosh Irani. Last season’s premiere production at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre won two Dora Mavor Moore Awards, including the Dora for outstanding new play. And it’s no wonder.

We sort of know where we’re going in this story of young Felix, which traces his life from the day he was born in the circus to the present, but the play takes twists and turns through life’s ups and downs that are mostly surprising and always entertaining. And after a bit of hesitation in the opening minutes, I was all in, fully immersed in this world.

Khoshkam transforms from Felix to the people in his orbit with a mobility and depth that astonish. (At alternating performances, the part is played by Andrew McNee, with cast and crew rehearsing and performing separately in COVID-safe bubbles.)

At alternating performances, Felix's part is played by Andrew McNee.Handout

There are harsh life lessons here. Being born into applause is no substitute for being born into loving arms. And, as Felix notes, “something wonderful is always followed by something else.”

Itai Erdal’s lighting is a mood-setter and a metaphor, creating giant shadows – how big we can become, how dark – and transforming the theatre into these many worlds: a circus tent; a stark, isolated room; that intoxicating bubble we enter when we fall in love. Joelysa Pankanea’s sound design contributes to the magic.

This is what I have missed so much, the great potential of theatre: One small stage, one performer, a subtle soundtrack and we are transformed, taken somewhere grand and horrible without ever leaving the room, and doing it together – if at a safe distance. How one person on a stage with a good script and smart creative team behind him can bring a world to us as we sit back and take it in. How did I ever take this for granted?

Returning to the stage for a second bow to a warm standing ovation, Khoshkam flexed his muscles, strongman-style and triumphantly yelled “Theatre!” The show must go on – and it does.

Buffoon is at the Granville Island Stage until Dec. 6. Tickets can also be purchased to view it online through a recorded stream.

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