Sunday, October 07, 2007

Class Fictions: What 30 Years of Pesto Stains Will Do To You.

Toronto loves it's rubbish. It loves it so much it's hesitant to send any of it to the waste tip. Whereas we in Ireland throw consumer durables into the nearest skip or try hide them buried under food packaging for garbage day collection, Toronto breeds an informal economy of weekend garage sales.

What doesn't sell, finds its way into crumpling cardboard boxes with the label "free" attached. Overflowing mainly with unwanted books or magazines, they rest battered outside houses all over the city every weekend. Fodder for wandering book worms, the rooting curious or shopkeepers filling their second hand bargain bins.

They say you shouldn't judge a book by the cover. In these instances, more often than not, its precisely the cover and blurb that draws you in. Images and choice words that sketch unknown authors and titles - pushing your buttons of choice, however superficially.

Wedged in between omnipotent, always out of date geek tech manuals outside BMV was The Dishwashers. A compact play in two acts, by Vancouver based Morris Panych, it sold itself well. A Vice-esque cover with a certifiably Victorian dish washing unit cast in theatrical lights, suggested the dingy glow of a pouncy hotel's hidden basement innards and working life.

Fire on a back blurb attacking the contemporary fiction of the classless society, alongside the petty tyrannies of supervisors over their own miserable domains and at two dollars - bingo.
Panych throws his playwriting lens on the everyday hidden, the dream likes states of the "off stage" service industry. Silenced and treated as unreal, these are alien places where real life is suspended and a new "non-reality" begins - one with frightening and hidden consequences that often can not be woken from.

Using eleven scenes from the very temporal world of dish washing he sketches the frustration of "falling in the hole" of poorly paid and dirty jobs. That frustration is amplified if you are Emmet, once rich and then waking to find his wealth as "numbers on a chalk board erased." In a four man play he becomes that archetype of the worker "only passing through" and our means to meet those for whom dish washing is permanent.

Moss is a pitiful old crone, 90 years old and riddled with terminal cancer, in the job "since dish washing was invented" his work is an exoskeleton keeping his fragile sense of self alive - then he is fired.

Dressler is a supervisor and thirty years hot spraying pesto stained dishes has left him bitter. His muscles flex on minutia. He tears into any hints of a personality wanting to move away from sink and up the stairs that lead to the restaurant floor and by extension, the good life. He is tormented by the taunts of the social mobility myth: "if everybody was on the top of the heap, there wouldn't be a heap."

Emmet rushes into his kingdom of piled plates, bearing a banner of hope and class war vindictive - antagonising the survival strategies of those that have allowed themselves to wilt in the face of failed ambitions. Ultimately he is the one we should identify with but Panych is more subtle.

The pathetic Dressler is a cunt, driving himself on with spiteful critiques of his underlings and forensic examinations of the waste he sees on the plates he washes: "a fillet mignon with only one little bite out of it, and a cigar tuck into the smashed potatoes. Beautiful. What an extraordinary little monument to overindulgence."

But unlike Emmet, he is going no where so he has none of Emmet's naive faith in opportunity amidst economy based on manufactured tastes and distinctions: "people need to be led to these things; like slaves to the promised land. You don't go out in search of encrusted head cheese for fuck's sake."

Dressler also gets to deliver some of my favorite lines of late: ""democracy is a lazy bitch who never did a day's work in her entire life; then complained if after a late shift, you made too much noise coming home and dropping dead from exhaustion on the sofa."

Stick that down as your email signature. When Emmet does move on, he does so with a distaste that rubs itself in the face of those he leaves behind in the dishwashing basement, the sort of distaste that perpetuates the alienation he raged against while soaping up everyday.

Panych's latest production called Benevolence plays Toronto this month. Set in an old porn theater, on seats where exposed foam wrestles with exposed duck tape and the lives of a financial district dick and winter jacketed bum dangerously intertwine.

Despite Panych's concern for low paid service sector jobs with uncomfortable hours in The Dishwashers, Benevolence is a play I won't get to see - its over 35 dollars a ticket. Maybe I'll find it in a bargain bin some years down the line.

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