My group of friends and I walked into a bar. . .
I know this is usually the opening line to a funny punchline, but this time it was because we were going to see a play presented by a new theatre company, The Virago Collective.
The location is a pub called Fernando’s in downtown Kelowna, where director Angela Lavender cleverly chose to stage a one-act play: “Savage in Limbo,” written in 1984 by John Patrick Shanley. It’s set in a seedy bar in the New York City borough of the Bronx.
Ticket holders for the play, which ran Dec. 2-5, were asked to arrive in the fashion of the 1980s, when styles were eclectic and hair was permed and as big as the shoulder pads we were wearing.
When the show started promptly at 8 p.m., it was only then that I realized the bartender standing near the passed-out girl at the end of the bar was part of the show. Bartender Murk (Matt Gunn) was clearly smitten with April (Emily Hardy), the girl slouched over on a stool asleep when Denise (Tamara Ross) walks in gagging for a drink and complaining about her life story, but getting no sympathy until in walks Linda (Elana Bizovie), a voluptuous sex bomb crying that her boyfriend who’s no good but totally great in bed wants to break up with her and start dating “ugly chicks.”
Denise admits she’s a virgin while Linda admits she has three illegitimate kids, so both decided that they wanted more from life and the two of them agreed to share an apartment and change their life . . . until Tony (Cory Armour), the ex-boyfriend, walks into the bar hoping to explain why “ugly chicks” do it for him.
Meanwhile, back at the bar, April, a failed nun who is also a classmate of the others and a chronic alcoholic, is aided by the perpetually angry barkeep; Murk not only feeds her excessive amounts of booze to appease her into liking him, but also enables her to live out epiphanies she has in her drunken haze. For example, Murk dresses up like Santa to give her a music box from a story she most likely repeatedly tells. He is angry and shouts to the others in the bar to “back off and mind their own business.” We as an audience know that this scenario happens a lot because the Santa suit and gift just happened to be at the right place, waiting for its reoccurrence when the time came up again.
Both characters, although seemingly significant to the rest of the plot, were the weakest. Murk began as a loud, angry man and didn’t seem to evolve any other emotion for us to care about. April is a hard character to play as she doesn’t really do anything but be drunk. Both had the words and a chance in the spotlight to show themselves dynamically and empathetically, but they didn’t take their chance — or perhaps lacked an understanding of their characters.
I felt the strongest and most impactful character was Linda, played by Bizovie. From the moment she walked into the bar crying, she was in character fully, and I definitely felt I was in the Bronx, watching her act. Bizovie gave us layers of depth that let me understand her hurt, her lifestyle and why she made the choices she did. Both Armour, as Tony, and Ross, as Denise, were strong seconds. I could have just watched that trio banter and resolve their life dilemmas because of the believable physical acting, as well as the good writing and how they expressed that mix of everyday vocabulary and mundanity of people’s lives.
The Virago Collective is a new theatre company for Kelowna, created by three women with a strong vision. Virago is the Latin word meaning female warrior or a woman of strength and courage.
This is their first live theatre show besides the one-woman musical story “The Tingle” that debuted at the Kelowna Fringe Festival in September 2019.
I am very impressed and looking forward to more shows from them.