1896 An Age of Aquarius eco-comedy
By George M. Johnson
Kamloops, BC: Pavilion Theatre, June 5-17, 2023
Reviewed by Wendy Weseen
I’m not a Boomer. I was cheated of that by being born a year before the end of WWII, not quite belonging to the age group that boomed at the war’s end and has been spoken of with reverence ever since. Society would have to plan for them; they’d be more than a small bump on the landscape. Such planning is complicated now by the even bigger bruise of climate change and more on the horizon. I don’t belong in the old folk trenches either, singing “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary”; I prefer Led Zeppelin.
Growing up in southern Ontario, Kamloops playwright George M. Johnson was just a bit too young to actively participate in the hippy culture; it was around him, however, and he was an observant witness. The introductory song to his musical eco-comedy Boomerangst, written in collaboration with his son Ben, contains the lines “I’m not quite a hippie, arrived a little too late.” In fact, the process of creating the play was something of a replication of the collectivism the plot advocates: Johnson’s wife Nina edited the script, and his daughter Sophia created graphics for song covers. So, the hippy ethos is evident in process and products.
James Brown, Johnson’s protagonist, is also a bit too young, but nevertheless infused with the hippy ethos. At the time of a high school reunion, factors converge in James Brown’s life–an early retirement, inheritance of property, a looming climate crisis, and the need for harmony with nature. The events in Johnson’s play might be thought of as a revival of the forces of the hippie movement and culture. Perhaps the Age of Aquarius arrived earlier than expected (although there is controversy about when that begins). Whatever the case, Brown persuades old friends from his high school past, who are no longer tasked with parenting, to join him in living communally—to get back to the land and embody the principal of sustainability.
Johnson connects the younger generation with the hippy philosophy by introducing character Kiss Fallow, a strong advocate for saving the planet and daughter of Tasia, one of the women he eventually persuades to join in on the off-the-grid adventure. As in all engaging stories, the narrative introduces conflict—in this case, in the form of Maria Travesta, a mining company executive and copper miner’s daughter who is determined to purchase the land from the fivesome. This antagonist is hoping to trash their dream of paradise and convince them to cross to the side of financial interests and wealth. The competing power and rigidity of the forces of a world economy are pitted against the effort to save human life and lessen the transformation of our planet.
The minimalist sets reinforce the characters’ return to frugality and reduced materialism and encourage the audience to use imagination. For example, a single wooden chair is used as a tractor, and the two women dig the floor with troweling movements. Sometimes less is more in live theatre.
A strength of this production is the acting performed by the Chimera Theatre Group. Our first impression of the cast, evoked by their mannerisms, dialogue, and dress at the reunion, is of a confident and self-assured bunch. On the farm, personality and backstory are revealed through action and dialogue. The audience responded enthusiastically, and laughter abounded when the often deprecating and self-deprecating humour hit home. I myself became caught up in the drama, wanting the characters to succeed in their mission, and to persevere past the temptation of wealth offered them.
Boomerangst is an eco-comedy with a smattering of slap stick and the funkiness of the ‘60s era. The themes of the play are certainly timely. But it is a soft hit: although Johnson succeeds in infusing humour into an anything-but-lighthearted issue, it’s not at the expense of the message that we must take immediate action against climate change. Boomerangst, a complex play with concerns about empty nests, midlife crises, and environmental losses, highlights the difficulty—but not impossibility—of making the changes needed to guarantee the future of the earth.
Wendy Weseen was born in Yorkshire, England and immigrated with her family to Saskatchewan in 1955. She later moved to Kamloops to help care for her mother. She practiced both visual art and the written arts and obtained a diploma in nursing and degrees in the humanities, social work, and fine art. She was awarded the Most Distinguished Student Award for studio art and the Silver Medal in Fine Art from the University of Saskatchewan in 2001.In addition to exhibiting in numerous public and private galleries she was a member of an Open Mic group, the Kamloops Society for the Written Arts, and planner of the annual writing festival. In both literary and visual art, she incorporates many diverse themes, and radiates a playful commentary on social and advocacy issues.
The British Columbia Review
Interim Editors, 2023-24: Trevor Marc Hughes (non-fiction), Brett Josef Grubisic (fiction)
Publisher: Richard Mackie
Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board now consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. The British Columbia Review was founded in 2016 by Richard Mackie and Alan Twigg.
“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster