Matthew MacKenzie’s Bust is a story of two households, led by sisters Carmell (Louise Lambert) and Laura (Lora Brovold), struggling with the aftermath of last year’s devastating Fort McMurray fire, built around a hilarious dime-store mystery plot involving a hockey mom gone bad and repurposed truck nuts. (Note: I am someone who would rather have never seen truck nuts, but their multiple appearances in this play is undeniably hilarious.)
Produced by Theatre Network, Bust is built to be a smashing success with Alberta audiences, and very likely in every other oil and gas producing region on the planet. The characters capture the moral ambivalence and complexity of people working in extraction industries who are rooted to the land, and there’s something here for oil-and-gas types and for environmentalist types, with slightly more sympathy for the industry expressed in the dialogue as the plot drives a message of concern for the plants and animals.
These issues are revealed in the relations of the two families. Laura and Barry (Christopher Shultz) have lost their home to the fire and, as a result, are each going through deep personal transformation. Their unforeseen struggles are highlighted in comparison to Carmell and Ty (Brandon Coffey), who are experiencing the more commonplace challenges of drug addiction and divorce. Laura and Barry’s trauma generates in each of them an increased concern for wounded or abandoned animals. Barry learns taxidermy so he can preserve animals he finds dead near tailings ponds, and Laura devotes herself to the local animal shelter.
A strange crime brings all four into the forest on the night of a supermoon, while the kids stay at grandma’s house. The conversations between Barry and Ty and between Carmell and Laura tell the whole story. The acting is superb and produces that rare effect in theatre when we see familiar strangers on stage, we don’t know them, but we’ve met people just like them.
The set immerses the audience into this spooky full-moon forest. We seem to tread on soil as we make our way to our seats, and the dialogue frequently invokes the otherworldly geography of the Athabasca bitumen mining site. At a time of community crisis—and whatever we might think about the relationship of Albertans to the province’s natural resources—Bust gives us a more nuanced understanding of the people who live amidst the world’s largest industrial development.