The Arts Club Theatre Company is presenting its latest Silver Commission World Premiere, The Cull by Michele Riml & Michael St. John Smith. At the Granville Island Stage, until February 26th, “find out what happens…when people stop being polite…and start getting real”, no it’s not an old lost episode of MTV’s The Real World, but The Cull certainly feels like its cut from the same cloth. The Cull lets us listen in as six friends, three couples, gather to for a 25th Anniversary Dinner party. While a forest fire rages outside, the three couples’ historic dynamics and insecurities come to a boil resulting in a gripping and often uncomfortable observation of the party. Mindy Parfitt’s direction along with Amir Ofek’s sparse set brings the focus on the very real dialogue between the six old friends; hosts Nicole (Meghan Gardiner) and Paul (Craig Erickson), well-to-do John (played by John Cassini), Lynne (Jasmine Chen), salt-of-the-earth Lewis (Stephen Lobo), Emily (Dawn Petten) who are celebrating their silver anniversary.
Married playwrights Michele Riml & Michael St. John Smith, with assistance of dramaturg Stephen Drover, have crafted a very real feeling story, about marriage, friendship, morals, money, status, and nature. The six veteran actors snugly fit into their roles and deliver the dialogue reflecting the natural ease that comes from long relationships. What starts as convivial catching up between friends who’ve not seen each other in a while, evolve into petty jabs like any lifelong friends, then further to challenge each other’s moral compasses. Once secrets and betrayal reveal themselves the divides between the group widen. The Cull strips away much of the traditional dinner party sets and props to further intensify the gripping conversation. Sandwiched between an ostentatious chandelier and a massive woodblock turntable floor, the actors work with nothing other than a handful of props central to conversations, six white chairs and each other. As any of us who’ve lived through recent summer fire seasons know, the orange skies can be oppressive, mentions of which increase the intensity of the dinner party. As much as wealth creates a moral divide within The Cull, nature also reflects the battles within the group. Many mentions of wolves and the wolf pack – and the namesake cull – echo these friends finding they aren’t as strong as they thought once the pack crumbles when they start to question who is the alpha couple.
The Cull never answers that question and shows that unlike conflict within a wolf pack, conflicts between friends rarely come to a tidy or clear resolution. The audience is privileged to witness this skilled troupe each walk their own moral tightrope, showing how easy it is to stumble off and on depending on how much they’re willing to compromise themselves and their mate. While it can be at times uncomfortable to watch this stripped back performance, with nothing to distract from the conversations it’s nearly impossible to look away…nor would we want to. See for yourself as these couples get real.
The Cull runs at The Arts Club Granville Island Stage until February 26, 2023. Find tickets and details online at artsclub.com