Undercurrents: The Pipeline Project presents uneasy discussion of right and wrong and us

Kevin Loring and Quelemia Sparrow in The Pipeline Project.

White, urban eco-warrior or First Nations rez dweller with a hankering for the good life, you don’t get off easy in The Pipeline Project.

The show, performed as a series of vignettes, centres on the political and cultural battles over pipelines in B.C.

That could make for a dry 75 minutes. But writers/performers Sebastien Archibald, Quelemia Sparrow and Kevin Loring (artistic director of the new Indigenous Theatre at the National Arts Centre) make the matter intensely personal, and in doing so, render it both universal and absorbing.

Archibald is a bicycle-riding urbanite who’s conflicted by his white privilege, guilt over treatment of First Nations people in Canada, and a growing awareness that while big oil means big trouble for the planet, there’s no escaping dependency on fossil fuels.

Loring plays a guy who loves his gas-guzzling SUV, “Big Chief,” and finds no end of justifications for driving it even though pipelines hold the potential to destroy his ancestral way of life. He pretty much nails our common dilemma when, confronted by the fact that beloved possessions like his SUV aren’t doing the world any favours, he demands, “Why do I have to be the one to quit?”

Sparrow is a mixed-race woman in real life and in the play. Her character’s love of fashionable clothing with its own heritage of carbon dioxide-belching sweatshops puts her into the same straits in which we all find ourselves: How do you navigate between self-interest and the ravaging of the planet and each other?

The conflicts all three face are complex and divisive. Echoed in the play’s vignette structure (director Chelsea Haberlin does a nice job of maintaining fluidity) and Conor Moore’s smart projection design, the cornucopia of issues sometimes ignites laughter, sometimes impotent fury.

With the Trans Mountain pipeline project now pitting provinces against each other and BC wine being held hostage, the show’s exploration of seemingly irresolvable cultural, political and personal stakes — and sometimes the sheer idiocy of the whole thing — take on added resonance.

The Pipeline Project proffers no solutions. What it does, and does well, is to make us uncomfortable and leave us malcontent with simple answers. Maybe that will yield a solution.

The Pipeline Project is a Savage Society and ITSAZOO production in association with Neworld Theatre (Vancouver).

Forstner & Fillister present: Forstner & Fillister in: Forstner & Fillister

Apparently more fun to perform than to watch, this comedy about woodworking, family, authenticity, working class pride, masculinity, human frailty, and assorted other matters more closely resembles a jumbled tool box than a finely honed chisel.

The story finds the charming Forstner (Will Somers) and his mercurial brother Fillister (David Benedict Brown) building a table before an audience (us) at a woodworking conference.  It’s an actual table, with sawdust and glue and the howl of a mitre saw part of the proceedings.

So, too, are meditations on the glories of handmade furniture, memories of their father, audience interaction, and everything in that toolbox.

Things eventually go south, which, given what we already know about the brothers, comes as no surprise.

Directed by Madeleine Boyes-Manseau, who co-wrote the show with Somers and Brown, the play winds up being trapped between its basic, two-bro story and its loftier ambitions. All of which makes it an entertaining enough 70 minutes but, like a messy workshop, not something you’d want to revisit.

An F & F Theatre production (Ottawa)

Little Boxes

Paul and Lauren have a problem. In fact, they have a lot of problems.

Paul (Carter Hayden) is unemployed and apparently willing to remain so, although just why he’s void of gumption isn’t exactly clear. To keep things together, his over-achieving wife Lauren (Gabrielle Lazarovitz) works three jobs while still finding the time to coddle his bruised ego and pursue a PhD (how anyone could actually juggle all this is another of the play’s unsolved mysteries).

Then the two have an incident. A big one. One so big that their other issues – including having lost their home in a grotty neighbourhood because of missed payments (would a bank really have granted them a mortgage in the first place?) – pale by comparison.

It’s a mess alright.

Written by Lazarovitz and Brad Long and directed by Adam Paolozza, Little Boxes is earnest. Very earnest. With lots of talk about responsibility and decisions and how life was so much better back in the day.

Well-acted and well-intentioned, it’s all a bit tiresome, lacking in dramatic spark and with a script that leaves too many unanswered questions.

A Little Boxes Collective production (Ottawa).

Reviewed Wednesday and Thursday. undercurrents continues until Feb. 17. Information and tickets: undercurrentsfestival.ca

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Patrick Langston covered English professional theatre for the Ottawa Citizen from 2008 to 2016. He also wrote about music, travel, the local housing industry and other subjects for the paper. Patrick continues to contribute to Ottawa Magazine, Diplomat and International Canada Magazine, and other publications.