God Only Knows

Of course a Smurfs reference would have made sense for a post about a play named Gargamel. But since we’re talking about God, and sound design influenced and including Brian Wilson songs, well, I opted for a holier (song) title.

Gargamel is a play from Mostly Water Theatre’s Trent Wilkie (who also stars in the lead role) about a guy, Dave (David), who loses his girlfriend in a car crash, and suffers mighty amounts of injuries, both physical and mental. Dave’s sister, Betty (played by Joleen Ballendine), sees that he needs to work through the loss of his girlfriend, Anna (played by Ellen Chorley), especially since he’s taken to screaming about fighting God. Although, to be fair, some of the encouragement to take on the Almighty is coming from long-dead Metis leader Louis Riel (Mostly Water’s Matt Stanton). Riel too feels like the big guy upstairs led him astray and wants David to know he’s right to want a duel.

The whole screaming at God and challenging him to a fight thing sees Betty enlist the help of her yoga teacher, who just happens to dabble as a spiritual guru, to talk to her brother. Because guru Alex Andre appears to take an interest in ailments that don’t make sense. (Craig Buchert, also of Mostly Water Theatre, plays Andre as a guru who gets that he’s a “guru.”) Alex Andre knows that people aren’t always going to take him seriously, and sometimes it appears he also doesn’t buy everything he’s selling. But he also might know more about the human condition than he lets on.

As both the comic relief and push to catharsis, Buchert gives a great supporting turn.

Challenging what religion means, wondering why a holy being would let suffering exist, and dealing with grief, is not new territory for a story. But Wilkie’s writing made me laugh, made me think about how every one of us really does deal with God and death differently (and that, in most cases, that’s OK), and, yes, the jerk even made me cry. There are a couple of scenes where Wilkie must be drawing upon the real-life experiences that influenced his story (including his brother’s non-fatal car crash) and, even though I actually know Trent from real life, he was a man torn to hell on that stage and I believed he had really lost his girlfriend in a horrific manor. Those scenes, where people are questioning why someone would die, andwho or what is responsible, had me thinking about my own experiences with death, especially when it comes out of nowhere (as it did with my best friend).

Director Mike Robertson’s fantastic use of video, alternating between home movies of Dave and his girlfriend and what’s in main character’s mind, gives the staging an extra kick of emotion.

Louis Riel, by the way is both a ghostly corner man, edging Dave closer to his fight with God, and the holder of monologues with the audience. Or perhaps he’s not a ghost and just exists in David’s mind…

Garamel is billed as a tragic comedy, and I’d say that’s a perfect description. I didn’t walk out of the Varscona Theatre with a big smile on my face from all the laughs, nor did I lie weeping on the sidewalk. I felt refreshed, like things in this crazy world could make sense now and then.

And that Louis Riel had a killer ‘stache.

Gargamel runs at the Varscona Theatre though March 5. Tickets are $20 ($15 for students and seniors), except Tuesday night (March 1) when you “pay what you can.”

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