Cost of Living
When: Oct. 10-Nov. 3
Where: BMO Theatre Centre
Tickets: from $29 at artsclub.com
In Martyna Majok’s 2018 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Cost of Living, John is smart, arrogant and wealthy; he is also confined to a wheelchair by his cerebral palsy. Ani is angry and caustic; she too is confined to a wheelchair, having been made a quadriplegic in a car accident. Both are portrayed by actors who share certain aspects of their conditions.
Not all of them, however.
“The way I can not relate to John is that he is very, very rich,” said Christopher Imbrosciano. “I have yet to experience the wealth that John has.”
Imbrosciano also has cerebral palsy, though not as severely as his character — it mostly affects the actor’s gait. Teal Sherer, who plays Ani, is a paraplegic. In the play, the focus is as much on their caregivers as it is on John and Ani. Rounding out the cast are Bahareh Yaraghi and Ashley Wright, as respective caregivers Jess and Eddie.
The different financial circumstances between the characters adds another layer to Cost of Living, Imbrosciano notes. “Hiring caregivers is not something John has to think about. Whereas Ani struggles to get the assistance she needs.”
While Imbrosciano and Sherer bring a certain amount of lived experience to their roles, neither has had to hire a caregiver.
“That’s something we’ve had to discover,” Sherer said. “I think that’s one thing that drew me to the play.”
Cost of Living is about privilege in its many forms, says director Ashlie Corcoran.
“The play explores the privileges of those who are able-bodied, but at the same time it’s looking at privilege through the lens of socioeconomic status,” she said.
Homelessness, gender, and what it means to be a first-generation American (in the case of Jess) are other themes that come up.
“In prepping for the play, I put different lenses on and tried to say, ‘Well who is more privileged at this moment, and what are they doing with it?’ It keeps shifting. John says, ‘I can do anything I want, except for the things that I can’t.’ And I think you could say that for all of the characters.”
The Vancouver run marks the play’s Canadian premiere. A co-production with Citadel Theatre, Cost of Living will move on to Edmonton in the new year.
Whether identity politics, the #metoo movement, or the environment, theatre is often at the forefront of cultural issues. Recognizing this, the Arts Club has created a role, that of creative cultural consultant, that lets the organization call in experts. For Cost of Living, they’ve consulted with James Sanders, founding artistic director of Real Wheel Theatre. The company is dedicated to inclusion, integration, and understanding of disability.
“Because they (the actors) have their own lived experience, his role has been more about working with the Arts Club as a whole to make sure our spaces and attitudes are as accessible as possible,” Corcoran said. “We’ve learned a lot and made lots of changes. What excites me the most is when we’re in meetings and people bring up these topics.”
Sanders is also collaborating with the Arts Club, in partnership with Bard on the Beach, on an upcoming symposium, Theatre and Accessibility in a Digital World (Oct 20-22 at the BMO). “We’re looking at how we can use technology to make theatre, our spaces, our experiences, our stories, more accessible for artists and audiences alike,” Corcoran said.
Cost of Living is a step in this direction.
“Society usually tells us to turn away when you see a person with a disability,” Sherer said. “With this play, we’re saying, ‘No, look at us. Look at our bodies, look at our experiences.’ And that’s really powerful.”