Heidi Damayo, Andrew McNee

Dark, humorous, yet charming, Kat Sandler’s Mustard is the current offering at the Arts Club Theatre’s Granville Island Stage.

Centering around 16 year-old Thai and Mustard, an imaginary friend living under her bed, this tale leads the audience on a rollercoaster of emotions as themes of love, abandonment and loneliness weave in and out of the 90-minute, one act production.

Heidi Damayo, Jenny Wasko-Paterson
[Heidi Damayo, Jenny Wasko-Paterson]

Thai is raging with teenage angst, often initiating fights at school. Her mother Sadie (Jenny Wasko-Paterson) spends the majority of the day at home facing her own demons: depression and alcoholism due to a failed marriage. While Sadie drowns her sorrows with glasses of wine, Thai gets knocked up by boyfriend Jay (Chirag Naik), a somewhat geeky university student.

Chirag Naik, Heidi Damayo, Jenny Wasko-Paterson
[Chirag Naik, Heidi Damayo, Jenny Wasko-Paterson]

Enter Mustard, a loving, sweet and animated man who’s been living under Thai’s bed for years and who knows the family intimately. Though Thai is the only one who can see Mustard, a strange twist occurs and suddenly, Sadie sees him too. At one point, Mustard asks Sadie on a date as he’s smitten with her.

Heidi Damayo, Andrew McNee
[Heidi Damayo, Andrew McNee]

It’s all goofy and fun, this imaginary man in a bright yellow jumpsuit donning a jester’s cap, until two creepy dudes from Mustard’s world enter the picture. Since Mustard has outstayed his time living in Thai’s room, these two men — Leslie and Bug — occasionally enter the scene accompanied by eerie green lighting, to remind Mustard that it’s time for the boon swallows.

We never really learn what the boon swallows is, but it’s clear that this would mean retirement from life under the bed.

Shekhar Paleja, Brett Harris, Andrew McNee
[Shekhar Paleja, Brett Harris, Andrew McNee]

Mustard is definitely sad at the thought, but Leslie (Shekhar Paleja) and Bug (Brett Harris) violently warn him that his time has come. To add to the drama, Bruce (Sadie’s ex-husband) now wants to finalize the divorce and asks Sadie to sign the papers. And then it’s time for Jay to meet Thai’s parents, unleashing a new fiasco on stage.

Andrew McNee, Heidi Damayo, Chirag Naik

Andrew McNee is terrific in the lead role, a demanding, physical one at that. As Mustard, he tries to comfort each of the characters in his own goofy way, and succeeds in making a good impression on Sadie (the hilarious pre-date build-up is one of my favourite moments during the show).

Jenny Wasko-Paterson portrays a sad and lonely divorcee with spirit and emotion, sparring well with daughter Thai.

Heidi Damayo
[Heidi Damayo]

Heidi Damayo pulls off a demanding split role as a teenager facing adult issues and being part of Mustard’s world.

Kevin McAllister’s cozy, two-level stage centers on both the living room and Thai’s bedroom while Alan Brodie’s lighting design provides just the right balance of atmosphere to suit both daytime and evening scenes.

Andrew McNee, Jenny Wasko-Paterson
[Andrew McNee, Jenny Wasko-Paterson]

It’s hard to pinpoint the core message of the story. Is it fairy-tale land vs. reality? Being comforted by an imaginary friend under your bed? The loss of innocence? Moving on? I’m betting Sandler is leaving this open to individual interpretation.

Artistic Director Ashlie Corcoran wanted Mustard to be part of his first season at the Arts Club and is proud to give this award-wining script its second-ever production.

Directed by Stephen Drover, Mustard continues at Arts Club’s Granville Island Stage through October 20 and is a co-production with Victoria’s Belfry Theatre.

Photos by Mark Halliday.

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