And Bella Sang With Us is a study on how things have changed, and how much further we have to go. Following two women in the early twentieth century as they try to get their start in the Vancouver Police Department. At a time when women wore skirts and were relegated to the home, it’s tough for Constables Lurancy Harris (Leanna Brodie) and Minnie Miller (Sarah Louise Turner) to prove their abilities on the force.
Set in Chinatown with a focus on the tawdry and salacious, these two women were initially put on the force to help get troubled women and “wayward girls” out of brothels and into the Mission. The two women seem initially to be direct opposites. Harris, the no-nonsense woman doing anything she can to fit in, and Miller, the more idealistic girl looking to make change. Costume design was quite smart for them, using dull, muted tones for Harris as another way for her to blend in and giving the colour to outwardly passionate Miller.
In the first few scenes, the three characters Simon Webb played seemed well defined. The constable had a hat and suit jacket with his constabulary badge, the O’Rourke character was in a different jacket and hat, and the uncle Crane was different as well. Those difference are necessary to define which character he is in every moment, and by the end that divide was completely lost. I don’t know if – just forgot to throw on his hat or jacket to identify himself, but everything blended together and the big discovery at the end was hindered because of this.
They occasionally broke into ideological discussions amongst themselves or with the aunt and uncle, which although interesting felt a little forced. Every time I was thinking of the underlying meaning behind how actors were playing their characters, it was openly talked about on stage. Sometimes, I really do want these things to stay under the surface.
Although some parts of the script fell flat for me, I loved the overall plot and the nuanced characters. Brodie and Turner worked wonderfully together, both in creating their personas and by challenging each other when they wanted to war with societal expectations. One of my favourite scenes of the whole play was when they sat down and furtively talked about their pasts, realizing their differences but understanding the similarities of what had gone into shaping each of their lives.
Unfortunately, Bella’s (Beatrice Zeilinger) story only felt pertinent because of the play’s title. Her role was interesting, but never felt fully developed – like there just wasn’t much to work with. Mai Ji (Agnes Tong) was focused on more prominently, perhaps due to the relative ease of telling that story in comparison. Tong had a great performance. Her presence filled the whole room during her song and any time she was on stage I was captivated by her character.