2015 Edmonton Fringe Review: AmIJane

AmIJane is the college-aged bad-girl version of Fight Club.

If you were in a hurry, or wanted a review you could just tweet, the above should be pretty much all you need. Caley Suliak plays Amy, and also Amy, in this one woman show.

It starts with an explosion. Boom! Bam! Kablamo! Because a play has to start with an explosion. Well, a shooting in this case, but as Plinkett would say we needed something to get the plot going.

Amy Sands and her best friend Amy Jane grew up in the same town together, and when AmyJane moved into the big city (I'm going to use that formulation where applicable to refer to said character) Amy went with her. We see quite a bit of the bad girl AmyJane, especially in the opening: she's snorting coke, flashing her panties at men in the bar, getting a waitressing job, and dating drug dealers and fooling around with the boys in the band. She's basically my cousin from Vancouver. We get a glimpse of AmyJane's party lifestyle and how she's dragging her more straighlaced friend Amy along for the ride.

Unfortunately, one day Amy gets a knock on the door: the cops are here to talk about Rob, the aforementioned drug dealing boyfriend. The play then cuts to several back and forths, with scenes in the past (when Suliak stands, typically playing AmyJane) and scenes in the interrogation (when Suliak sits, typically playing Amy). Some of the scenes in the past were scenes that occurred at the start of the play as well: we see some snapshots of the events without fully understanding the context. Most of AmyJane's backstory isn't, oddly enough, expressed in the scenes where AmyJane is talking/dancing/fucking. It's flushed out the most when meek little Amy is explaining things to the cops: AmyJane's rehab stint, her relationship with Rob, her influence on getting Amy a job at the bar. Most of the AmyJane scenes are just covering AmyJane's personality, and showing how her overwhelming style can sometimes push Amy towards a path she isn't able to handle. AmyJane also discusses her family life only briefly, mainly the conflicts created when she starts having to lean on them to support her increasingly expensive and destructive lifestyle. AmyJane has to turn to them after Amy becomes unavailable for help -- I believe the intent was to show that Amy was either drifting away from AmyJane or was herself starting to suffer the limitations of the party girl lifestyle, though I may be giving the play too much credit -- and pretty soon the entire operation starts crashing down around her.

In the police interrogation, timed to coincide with AmyJane's drug problems leaving her in danger of being physically harmed by an angry Rob [I see what you did there... -ed], Amy starts to get more and more concerned that AmyJane hasn't checked in lately. She seems to play the role of Joan Watson on Elementary: a "sober companion" (or more sober companion, strictly speaking) after AmyJane finishes rehab: she took AmyJane in when the partying and the drugs started to consume her, and is there to temper AmyJane's impulses. "She's supposed to tell me before she freaks out and does something crazy" Amy tells the cops, unaware of how ridiculous such an arrangement with a drug addict whose ex-boyfriend is her dealer would be. So somewhat predictably, AmyJane is nowhere to be found, and Amy gets steadily more and more concerned and antsy and...well, AmyJane-like...as the probing questions (which we never hear) continue.

Caley Suliak (who, by the by, is awfully easy on the eyes) definitely keeps the energy level up for her entire 45 minute performance. While there are a couple cases where it's obvious a "Amy scene" has been written to give the actress a chance to sit down and conserve her energy (she's visibly out of breath after a run of AmyJane's ass-showing dance routines and bad girl mannerisms) in general the action flows organically as the actress switches between Amy and AmyJane. In general, however, I would have preferred two actresses, one playing Amy and another AmyJane. This way they could have switched between characters more effectively (there are a few moments where what Suliak is saying is missed as we in the audience struggle to figure out which character we're listening to). Still, Suliak does some pretty good work here despite rather uninspiring dialogue and a bit too frantic a script.

I'm going to spoil the ending now.

I don't usually give spoiler warnings when I do these reviews: quite often I go right to the end, the hook, the twist. Halfway through reading the review and -- boom! -- I've gone and told you the entire plot. This time, though, I thought I'd give you a spoiler warning. So if you look up, there it is. No, not the "I'm going to spoil the ending now". Look further up. Way way waaaaayyyyy further up.

AmIJane is the college-aged bad-girl version of Fight Club.
You may not have noticed...but your brain did. I'm not the only one to spoil it though, by the way. Here's the official synopsis in the play.
This new one woman show is based on the true story of the tumultuous friendship between Amy Sands and her unstable friend AmiJane. Not only do they share a name, but a dangerous and exciting lifestyle. Their friendship walks a fine line, teetering on the brink of madness and lucidity.
Okay, that isn't quite as explicit, nor is the teaser poster for the play which shows a cherub faced innocent high school yearbook photo next to a wild child at the bar with her hair all crazy and too much makeup and eye shadow and the look like she's about to do a line and let a rock band gangbang her. But the clever pun in the show's title -- Am I Jane? -- and the opening out of sync scenes (each of which come out during the play from the two different women, but in the opening seem to come from the same one) make it pretty clear right away that AmyJane is Amy, particularly the "what do you mean there's no evidence of a roommate" line that Amy says as the charade starts to unravel. One of the cops asks to use the bathroom, that old canard, and immediately manages to find no evidence of a roommate? Did he test every hair sample or something? Anyways, at that point the gig is basically up, though all the mysterious texts to Amy asking about the wild house party also should have clued in any viewers that weren't quite up to speed on the affair. Just in case you didn't get it, though, the cops call AmyJane's number and Amy's phone keeps ringing. At the time I thought it weird that a cellphone could receive it's own number as a separate contact, but crazy enough I just tried it on my Samsung and it works. Anyways, the cops agree to Amy/AmyJane going to the party, even though we saw the shooting to start off this play. You see, Rob is there and Amy wants to go there to be with AmyJane and keep her away from Rob...though the duality leads to tragedy because that action is what puts AmyJane and Rob together finally. Unfortunately Rob has just been let out of prison, AmyJane owes him money that he owes higher up the drug dealer chain, and it's strongly implied that Rob shoots her.

Seeing how the police are asking about Rob so soon after his release, and how they know now that Rob will be very interested in harming AmyJane and how Amy Sands is AmyJane (okay, they may not know that last part), how do they let Amy go to the party? She gave them the address and told them to go bust Rob...wouldn't they just do this? Anyways, Amy does go to the party with the cops in tow, and Rob manages to shoot her anyways. I know druggies and dealers aren't the most sensible folks on earth, but this still seems like a horrible miscalculation on Rob's part. Likewise, as I mentioned earlier, I think it was a horrible miscalculation to have Suliak play both parts. It seemed that the play wanted to hold the reveal of Amy/AmyJane until near the end (the cellphone scene) and just drop clues throughout the piece. However, the clues were a little too obvious, and the same actress playing "both" roles didn't at all help. Having the Amy and AmyJane lines be delivered separately by separate actresses would help the audience get a feel for the two unique characters and preserve the mystery. The reveal could be then the cellphone scene with some hints dropped in (say, a single line delivered by one actress in the opening where all the future lines are dropped in without reference, then by the other actress in the main body of the play, just enough confusion to hint at the conclusion). As we discover the two women are the same, AmyJane could start muttering Amy's lines in union and progressively get louder until the end, or the actress could simply back off set or be shrouded in darkness and speaking with the light on Amy...there are all sorts of neat directorial tricks that could achieve this.

Instead, we get a mystery-adventure that gives away the mystery too early and then just keeps going, ultimately feeling padded despite the 45 minute runtime.

(click here to return to the 2015 Edmonton Fringe portal page)