The Cultch Asks Vancouverites, Are We Cool Now?

Dan Mangan’s music makes for one hell of an indie rock road trip

Murray Mitchell

“Are you watching – or just waiting to see?”

Are We Cool Now, starring Penelope Corrin and Ben Elliot and directed by Amiel Gladstone is a romantic play featuring the heartfelt and introspective songs of Vancouver’s beloved singer-songwriter Dan Mangan. The play explores the ups and downs of a blossoming relationship between the principal main characters as they travel across Europe and Canada together.

Elliot plays an awkward, somewhat timid homebody who has been comfortably anchored in Winnipeg his whole life, while Corrin portrays an impulsive, wanderlust-driven adventurer. Like any traditional romantic comedy, the differences between these characters provides the comedic contrast and romantically accentuates their relationship. But it would be a mistake to call this a “traditional romantic comedy.”

Are We Cool Now isn’t afraid to acknowledge romantic tropes, but the incorporation of personal sorrow and reflection into the story brings a particularly un-Hollywood-like sense of realism. The characters are lovably insecure and uncertain of how their stories will be told or how they will end, but they are determined to make it there one way or another. In his song “How Darwinian” Mangan sings “People don’t know what they want, they just know they really want it,” and this theme is thoughtfully expressed throughout the story.

The characters grow together amidst a backdrop of Mangan classics, and the songs blend so well into the narrative you could swear they were specifically written to fit the play, instead of the other way around. His music is usually so emotionally stirring that it easily and effectively lends itself to dramatic representation, and works well within the play’s context.

As a newcomer to Mangan’s music I wasn’t able to identify each song as it was sung during the performance, which perhaps gave me an advantage in judging the play on its own merit outside of Mangan’s influence or reputation. I could enjoy the songs without any pretext or personal filters, and to me they felt like the natural expression of the characters themselves rather than a series of complimentary artistic additions to the production.

The talent exhibited by the actors and musicians—Anton Lipovetsky on guitar and bass, Spencer Schoening on drums—was impressive, and their performances together were natural and fluid. When asked, the director said his favourite part of the production was witnessing the collaboration of everyone involved, and how everyone brought something different and interesting to the play. Are We Cool Now was the product of a community of artists who had a wealth of shared experiences with which they could relate to the uncertainty and vulnerability of young-adulthood.

This pervasive and universal vulnerability is something that the protagonists, like all human beings, are repeatedly forced to cope with, and a lot of Mangan’s songs are about exploring and living with our weaknesses and insecurities, as well as facing our fears—which is why they fit so well into the play.

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