Avaricious, conceived and directed by Jacquie P.A. Thomas, is an imaginative and beautifully-staged adult fable.
And that is what it needs to be perceived as in order for it to work. On its own, the story is a little bit shallow.
The show teaches the same kind of moral lesson you may have been taught as a child– except with a lot of profanity and a bit of killing, involving a hatchet.
The piece, inspired by the story of a billionaire in Mumbai who illegally bought an orphanage to tear it down and build a 46-storey house for himself, ties in well to the always-relevant problem of the world’s very unbalanced ratio of wealthy to poor.
Avaricious tells the story of Billy (Patrick Howarth), your over-the-top greedy con artist. In a marketing ploy to sell his new flood survival kit called the ‘Go Bag,’ Billy fabricates a rumour that a flood is on its way and has the whole community in shambles, looting and scavenging for food and resources.
But Billy doesn’t care. He is a billionaire and has built himself a 97-storey home, on stilts, where he lives with his dying mother and the orphans he adopted to work in his Go Bag factory (nice guy, eh?).
When one of his orphans named Rupa (Michelle Polak) discovers Jimmy (Michael Spence), a homeless man who has access to corn seeds, Billy decides to invite Jimmy into his home in order to buy the seeds from him – an offer Jimmy takes full advantage of. As the rain gets progressively worse, Billy’s rumour starts looking less and less like a rumour, and as long as Jimmy’s around, Billy’s plan does not go as smoothly as he had hoped.
Under Thomas’s direction, the ensemble delivers stunning segments of physical theatre, using both each other and set pieces, foreshadowing the impending flood. Yoga balls of various sizes fall onto the stage signifying the intensity of the rainfall, umbrellas are used in dance segments, and Billy’s mountains of boxes containing Go Bag items are arranged and rearranged in an always captivating manner as the show progresses. The ensemble has powerful voices to boot and will sometimes break into song, with an unforgettable opera performance by Pam Patel that is both breathtaking and hilarious.
Michael Spence’s set of boxes is further accentuated by Laird MacDonald’s projection and lighting design, and John Gzowski’s sound design which work wonders at setting the mood for the storm, creating an increasingly gloomy stage setting that parallels the escalation of dark intentions among the characters involved.
Avaricious presents serious themes in a frivolous manner. Like any fable you would read, you don’t necessarily feel for or resonate with the characters, but in this case, the lack of depth is something that I don’t necessarily mind.
Avaricious is presented by Theatre Gargantua and written by Michael Spence with the ensemble and contributions by Kat Sandler. The show is playing at Theatre Passe Muraille until Nov. 21. For more information visit http://theatregargantua.ca/avaricious/.