Mules (Stage 4, Walterdale Theatre)
By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Mules, a tense and suspenseful two-hander by the actor/playwright team of Beth Graham and Daniela Vlaskalic (who starred in the 2006 premiere), puts the grit back into dark comedy.
Its entry-level mystery, so to speak, is a mysterious odd-couple sitcom encounter, at first comic, between two women, high school classmates who haven’t seen each other in a decade — in the women’s can at Vancouver airport. And it just keeps escalating in a farcical high-stakes way that leaves “it seemed like a good idea at the time” in the dust.
One character, Cindy (Kyra Gusdal), is a stripper, a hard-edged chick, on a fuse that isn’t long and gets a whole lot shorter in the course of Mules. The other, Crystal (Miracle Mopera), a single mother with a cheery air of normalcy about her, has a germ phobia about using public washrooms, which certainly puts a damper on the urgent task at hand. Her erstwhile classmate has sent her on a drug smuggling mission to Bogota, and retrieval of the illegal import, as the title tips off, is at hand, assisted by Ex-Lax.
“Life is going to get a lot better for both of us,” Cindy insists. As one thing after another goes way wrong, this will start to seem, well, ill-advised, crazy, and probably doomed, a bit like the unravelling heist that David Mamet’s inept lowlifes in American Buffalo are plotting.
What sticks with you about Mules, as Kevin Sutley’s production confirms, is that it frames a story that emerges, in bits and pieces, little exchanges, revelations and silences, of girlhood hopes shut down, dreams delayed indefinitely, friendships abandoned and betrayed, the sense that life somehow just isn’t as good as it should be, and still could be — if only.
Kevin Sutley’s production is both supple in its rhythms and intense in momentum, between moments of comedy. And two very watchable young actors, newcomers to the scene, bite into this demanding material in compelling ways. Gusdal convincingly charts the rocky two-way route between tension, panic and desperation. Mopera is entirely convincing as the struggling single mom who has dared to reimagine a future beyond the scramble of the present.