The latest play in the TACTICS Mainstage Series of local independent theatre, Swedish Furniture by Ottawa playwright Matt Hertendy is a realistic look at the stresses that a hard job market, aimlessness, and lack of sense of self put on a young relationship.
The premise of the play is simple but sets up the disastrous result from the beginning—building an IKEA bed. The moment you find out that this play is about a young couple trying to find work with arts degrees and build IKEA furniture, you know the play isn’t going to end well.
Hertendy and director Katie MacNeill don’t delay the inevitable for long—the play has several flashbacks and flash-forwards, including one in which the unnamed female character, played wonderfully by Megan Carty, is trying to return the bed. We know the relationship isn’t going to survive the bed-building process. Knowing what’s coming doesn’t take the punch out of it though.
Hertendy, Carty, and fellow actor Jon Dickey, and the entire Allen Key Kollective knows how to show a young relationship. They play with some of the Millennial tropes that older generations like to commiserate about, but never lean into bitter sarcasm. It isn’t a play laughing at Millennials. Instead, it points out with painful accuracy how hard it can be to find a job in today’s market and how lost and without purpose, a recent graduate can feel. But the play also has a lot of light, comedic moments, including a lengthy digression about the Bee Movie (very Millennial) and several hilarious scenes recreating the amorous affair of the two spiders that live in the corner of the room. It’s a realistic life situation.
The unnamed male character, played by Dickey, is a far more complex character than his female counterpart. He struggles to find employment and sinks into what seems like depression. Through him, we see how demoralizing it is to measure yourself up to others and always feel inadequate, and just how large a role having a job can play in your sense of self-respect. Near the end of the show, we see him in a job interview where he tells the interviewer that all he’s looking for is self-respect. It’s an uncomfortable scene—it’s rather awkward seeing someone confess that in a job interview—but an important one, sort of his cry for help after being silent for so long. The play, however, is not entirely sympathetic of him, since we do see him taking out his insecurities on his girlfriend throughout the play. The fear that she will leave him for a better man crops up often. The play doesn’t obviously come down on one side or the other.
Swedish Furniture is a rather Millennial play, but not one that wants to maliciously make fun of that age bracket. Armed with their comical liberal arts degrees (Interdisciplinary Studies), this young couple struggles to piece their lives together while keeping their relationship afloat. Inevitably, the pressures of joblessness, purposelessness, and insecurity cause the relationship to buckle. The spiders in their web in the corner have a better relationship than these two—that’s why they play-act it out. Hertendy has created a play that recognizes the painful reality that if you don’t love yourself, maintaining a relationship is nearly impossible. It’s a great piece of accurate and realistic independent theatre.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.