Ruben (Ahad Mir) loves his friends, that he knows for sure. Everything else, well, everything else he just doesn’t know about anymore. Ever since his best friend Nico (Chad Hamilton Andrews) started dating Lisa (Courtney Charnock), Ruben’s life has been a weird mess.
A comedy co-written by Mir and Andrews, A Picture With A Bull asks if adulthood and friendship can ever mix. What audiences will find here is certainly a mix: a lengthy mix of crude humour and cliché under the guise of something meaningful.
The play begins with Ruben taking us back to before all the trouble began, the trouble of girlfriends, responsibility, and nostalgia. Every year, Ruben, Nico, and Greg (Alex Peters) go on a trip together to bond and get away from life. For Ruben, what makes the trip special is that it’s always just him and his bros – no girls allowed. This year, though, Ruben’s friends have a different idea for the trip: what if Lisa and Ruben’s girlfriend Diana (Natasha Strickey) came along too? Ruben outright rejects the idea. He refuses to betray tradition, a tradition only he seems to really care about.
Ruben’s stubbornness eventually leads the guys to question their friendship, career paths, and ultimate end goals; the usual frustrations of twenty-somethings in a 9-5 world.
Mir and Andrews’ play is set up much like a sitcom. In fact, the audience can identify almost right away the usual personalities. Lisa is something like the Phoebe of the group, quirky and artsy. Greg is the Funny Guy/Slacker who is good for a laugh, but not much else (like character development). Ruben is the charismatic Cool Guy, the clever one who has a comeback for everything. And they all work in the professional fields of law, healthcare, and business – except for Lisa who is a dancer, naturally.
Like a sitcom, the writing is (over)stuffed with zingers and risqué jokes. At the same time, too, there are real concerns about adult friendships, about relationships being work rather than things that simply happen. The balance between the two is uneven, to say the least. What unfolds is a messy demonstration of the ensemble’s comedic chops. The play’s more serious commentary exists largely as an afterthought.
When the play exhausts its cheap laughs, the show settles on presenting in full its dramatic side. What follows is a forgettable conclusion – forgettable because the characters never earn anything beyond that – that abruptly ends on a less than hopeful note.
The ensemble’s strength is their charming chemistry which invites the audience into this group of friends, allowing them to laugh along plenty at Mir’s sharp tongued performance and Peters’ wacky antics. The ensemble, however, is allowed to be too much at ease with each other. Brett Tromburg’s relaxed direction takes the punch out of some of the play’s more witty exchanges.
There is no denying that Mir and Andrews have written a funny, if uneven, script. The problem is that not much stands out to make this play particularly memorable. The characters, along with the comedy, are flat, and the drama is undercooked.
Despite having its moments, Mir and Andrews’ A Picture With A Bull is ultimately a mixed effort that offers nothing new that hasn’t been done before.
Ahad Mir and Chad Hamilton Andrews’ A Picture With A Bull ran July 22 – July 25 at the Motel Theatre (Arts Commons) as part of the Common Ground Festival. The full festival runs until Aug 1st.
For more information about the festival, visit: http://www.commongroundyyc.com/