The Cull throws its characters to the wolves

A discussion of B.C.’s wolf culls led to a play not only about man versus nature but man versus marriage.

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The Cull

When: Jan. 26 to Feb. 26

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Where: Granville Island Stage, 1585 Johnston St., Vancouver

Tickets: From $29 at artsclub.com

After 25 years of wedded bliss, issues are bound to arise. For Michele Rimi and Michael St. John Smith, a discussion of B.C.’s wolf culls led to a play not only about man versus nature, but man versus marriage.

“I wouldn’t say it’s an interrogation of our own marriage, but we certainly drew upon our own thoughts about it,” said Rimi. “It’s like an exploration of how we can communicate with one another, which is pretty well, but it can be a bit fiery at times. There were definitely times when I had to go for a walk. Or Mike said that he wanted to ‘take some time.’”

In the play, three couples gather to celebrate a wedding anniversary. A sudden and unexpected gift, along with the subject of the wolf cull in southeastern B.C., throws the conversation and relationships into disarray.

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Rimi and Smith were inspired to write The Cull after attending a pre-COVID-19 dinner party, not unlike the one in the play, and getting into a discussion with a provincial government worker involved in the wolf cull. The discussion “led to all kinds of political issues,” Smith said.

“Afterward, we had just gotten into the car and thought, ‘God, that’d be a great idea for a play — not just the way wolves are culled, but also the idea of people culling each other. One thing led to another, and it came to be about money and how people compromise their values in the pursuit of money.”

Rimi is an experienced playwright, Smith a screenwriter and actor. They had written one piece together before, a short play for Pi Theatre over a decade previous to starting The Cull.

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The play was originally scheduled to open in 2020, but then the pandemic happened. Instead, the Arts Club and the writers reworked the workshopped piece into an audio play. The original cast of Dawn Petten and Stephen Lobo as the celebratory couple and John Cassini, Jasmine Chen, Craig Erickson and Meghan Gardiner as their friends has stuck around for what is its live Canadian premiere.

At the time of the original discussion, Rimi and Smith came at the subject of the cull from different places.

“It seemed kind of unnecessarily cruel to me in a sense that I thought this is kind of strange, people shooting wolves from helicopters,” Smith said. “It didn’t feel quite right to me even in the interest of preserving the caribou or herd.”

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“I was curious about it,” Rimi said. “I didn’t know very much about it. We did more research. In the play we leave a lot of open-ended questions. And that’s one of them.”

But the actual cull takes a back seat to the interpersonal dynamics of the six characters trying to have a pleasant time together. One idea that comes up is how information overload contributes to people having a hot take on subjects they might know nothing about.

“Stephen Lobo’s character, Lewis, actually knows the facts and he is more in touch with nature,” Rimi said. “But he’s also the most reluctant to get involved in the conversation because it’s a dinner party. He even has a line where he says, ‘I don’t think we can figure this out at a dinner party.’ And I think that speaks to a larger kind of cultural conversation that’s happening, where everybody has an opinion about everything. And it’s kind of getting us into trouble.”

Following The Cull, Smith and Rimi wrote a children’s play before turning to separate projects. They aren’t ruling out working together again.

“What’s nice about two creative people living together is that when you’re working on something, even over coffee or breakfast, somebody can pose a question and you find that two hours later you’ve talked about character and where a scene might go,” Rimi said. “There’s something very fluid and creative about it.”

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