The morality of petty theft is examined with humour in The Shoplifters

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn

The Shoplifters | Arts Club Theatre Company | Surrey Arts Centre, Metro Vancouver tour | January 9 – February 9, 2020

In the stock room of a grocery store, Alma (Patti Allan) sits calmly and waits. She’s being held for questioning after a couple of steaks fell out of her skirt. Surrounded by a towering set made of boxes (by Ken MacDonald), over-confident Alma and anxious Phyllis (Agnes Tong) are interrogated by Otto (Dean Paul Gibson), an overbearing security guard ready to retire, and Dom (Raugi Yu), a well-meaning trainee preparing to take over from Otto.

Alma relishes the psychological game of chess with Otto. As he questions her about the steaks, she calmly pulls a brand new box of tissues and a nail file out of her purse, unwraps them, and proceeds to file her nails. She is wonderfully brazen as Otto tries to get her to admit guilt. Meanwhile, Phyllis trembles under the stress and Dom tries to remember what was in the training manual.

Morris Panych’s script is full of witty lines and wry observations on life as these four characters’ morals clash. As Alma says, “You’d be surprised what you can do when nobody is looking.” With her strong convictions about income inequality and corporate greed, Alma is a career shoplifter who isn’t afraid of anything. “Don’t admit to anything,” she tells Phyllis.

While Dom sees it as his duty to prosecute Alma and Phyllis to the full extent of the law, Otto has a different perspective. We later see that this is influenced by his quiet admiration for Alma. “You were in aisle five the first time I saw you…,” he tells Alma. Although it’s been years since Allan and Gibson have appeared together on stage, they have great chemistry and play off of their characters’ quirks and idiosyncrasies.   

While we never leave the stock room and the premise may sound simple, Panych’s script allows for an examination of complex themes like morality, ethics, anti-capitalism, and social justice. It keeps you laughing throughout and leaves you with plenty to think about on the way home.

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn