Little Boxes at Arts Court Theatre for #Undercurrents

An edited version of this review appeared in Apt613.

undercurrents continues to serve up provocative theatre as the unsettling Little Boxes tackles the impact of austerity and its levelling toll on self-identity in a taut drama from Gabrielle Lazarovitz and Brad Long. Paul (Carter Hayden) and Lauren (Lazarovitz) are living the educated and under-employed nightmare. She’s pulling triple duty while he’s lost his job and, despite their best plans, they find themselves harnessed to the anxiety driven hamster-wheel of suburban existence trying to make ends meet and cope with disillusion.

The play drives through the couple’s past, present and future in the milliseconds following a life-changing collision. The set is the front seat of their vehicle on a roadway as they struggle to regain control of their lives following a momentary distraction that heralds a potentially life-changing future; a collision that puts their lives in sharp focus and makes them come up hard on who they are as the post-impact moment is stretched to a riveting 60 minutes of panicked flash-backs and flash-forwards. Little Boxes captures that quintessential car crash moment when time slows and a million thoughts are born through impact.

The intimacy of the car is critical to the success of this piece. From singing along to a favourite song to the sense of suspended night-driving reality, no one is immune to the confessional attributes of this “safe space”. A seemingly non-linear journey as the action moves through past, present and future the set anchors the play firmly in the present moment of the collision circumventing any disorienting effects of shifting scenes.

The on-stage complicity and chemistry between the two is faultless.

Direction from Adam Paolozza is masterful as he moves Paul and Lauren naturally through jarring shifts in time and space: their dream potential, their wistful memories and the horrifying moment of impact. Paolozza constructs an undeviating flow to the collision with logical transitions despite having the actors shift time and gear from the gaming sofa of youth, future scenarios and the crushing existence of debt and unemployment.

Lazarovitz and Long are accomplished writers confronting ambitious socio-economic and introspective identity themes with imaginative and impactful storytelling. The pivotal situation in Little Boxes is the springboard by which the phenomena of precarious employment and anxiety of survival are addressed. Once the providence of the unskilled worker, insecure employment has crept off the assembly line and floor shop into the boardroom and white-collar workforce. Little Boxes questions how subsistence impacts self-identity in a captivating narrative.

Lazavoritz and Hayden as Lauren and Paul bring a steady believability to their roles despite the dizzying array of emotions and delivery demanded of them. Whether comedically on-point in superior “aspirational” mockery of neighbours or achingly bereft in the throes of self-disgust they are unfailingly familiar throughout. The on-stage complicity and chemistry between the two is faultless: a truly recognizable portrait of modern domesticity. As they reminisce about Lava Pit gaming and mall hook-ups in sweet retro nods, the simplicity of their past contrasts naturally to the complexity of their present.

Capturing the zeitgeist and fragility of 2018, Little Boxes delivers a powerfully encapsulated moment that questions what remains “good” in people in crisis, when pushed to the precipice of subsistence and survival – are we all in it together or looking out for ourselves?

See Little Boxes’ final show Saturday February 17th at Arts Court.

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