Review: THE GARNEAU BLOCK is a Bonafide Hit!

By: Sep. 25, 2021
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Review: THE GARNEAU BLOCK is a Bonafide Hit!

The wait is over: The Garneau Block finally takes centre stage! A year and a half after its initially-planned run, Belinda Cornish's riveting adaptation of Edmonton author Todd Babiak's award-winning novel is at the Citadel. Both introspective and escapist, this wildly entertaining dramedy invites the audience to be the proverbial fly on the wall in the homes of our fictional neighbours. Still weathering the collective aftershock of a neighbour's violent suicide, Babiak's characters are stirred into another tizzy upon realizing that life as they know it is about to change once again.

We are quickly introduced to the tough-as-nails Shirley (Nadien Chu) and her recently fired professor husband, Raymond (Julien Arnold). The air nearly crackles with tension as they are tossed in the throes of their tumultuous marriage, the conflict escalating when Shirley learns the reason for Raymond's dismissal. Together, Chu and Arnold paint a vivid portrait of their characters' deteriorating relationship, Chu in particular shining and garnering big laughs as Shirley spitefully slings hash browns at a yelping and ducking Raymond.

Their next-door neighbours Abby and David (Stephanie Wolfe and George Szilagyi) appear to live quietly with their 20-something daughter, Madison (Rachel Bowron). At first glance, their problems seem to only consist of Madison's career discontentment and Abby's displeasure with David letting their pint-sized pup lounge on the kitchen table. But, like an iceberg hidden beneath the surface, it is only a matter of time before they can't hide their secrets from one another. Though lacking their neighbours' volatility, the family is also portrayed with such depth and nuance that the characters seem like real people. Bowron is particularly engaging to watch as her character banters with her eccentric actor friend Jonas (Andrew Kushnir) and finally gets to know her long-term crush, Rajinder (Shelly Antony).

Belinda Cornish's dynamic script shines with caustic humour and social commentary without being heavy-handed. Along with casting light on the #MeToo movement, The Garneau Block deftly tackles issues including racism towards Indigenous peoples and stereotypes regarding the homeless. Barry (Sheldon Elter) and Helen (Alana Hawley Purvis) challenge these assumptions, encouraging their neighbours both explicitly and implicitly to not judge a book by its cover and that new friendships may form in the most unexpected places. From the hair-raising opening scene to the satisfying climax, the narrative clips along at a brisk pace, its pivotal moments pulsing with a domestic suspense's heartbeat. It is impossible to not hold tight to the plot's coattails or to hang on each character's every word as their neighbourly tensions simmer and boil over. References to familiar Edmonton locations such as Continental Treat, Cafe Mosaics, and the High and Low Level Bridges are sprinkled throughout, these clever bits of world-building audibly appreciated by the audience.

The production plays out on Narda McCaroll's cleverly-designed set, the foreground of which resembles an open-faced honeycomb of adjacent living areas designed with a minimalist Scandinavian aesthetic. Rising above these living areas is an elevated backdrop of towering clustered house facades, further creating the illusion of a tight-knit community where secrets don't remain hidden for long. Coupled with McCaroll's atmospheric lighting and Matthew Skopyk's quirky instrumentals, the show is visually arresting and captures the essence of the real-life neighbourhood.

The Garneau Block runs at the Citadel Theatre until October 10. Masking and proof of vaccination are required for all audience members.

Image Credit: The Citadel Theatre