Jailed On the Airwaves
Pinter menace, a dash of Sartre's No Exit (Hell is other people) and a whiff of Saw...
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
I was going to dig up a neat copyright-free photo to run with this review, but then I realized that would be absolutely counterproductive to the aims of Sarah Mahoney's C'est la Vie Theatre's noble and exciting new project: theatre to your iPod. Like a good book, music (before goddam MTV) and radio drama (which this pretty much is), the power of the piece is in your head.
C'est la Vie's introductory outing, Sterling Lynch's Prisoner's Dilemma (first performed at Pumphouse Theatre in Calgary and here directed by Mahoney), shows that the idea has great promise. Lynch's play is a complicated, wordy piece that begins in a strange place, with two women not sure why they are in that place. It has a nice feeling of Pinter menace, a dash of Sartre's No Exit (Hell is other people) and a whiff of Saw.
It's solidly acted by the leads (Gabriela Saltiel and Megan Stewart). However Daniel Ruppel as the enigmatic guard is just mildly over the top and the intros and outros border on the outlandish. These are glitches of the company's newness, more than anything else. Radio is not as easy as it looks. It requires a style of acting that conveys emotion without being hysterical. The two female actors understand that fact, as will other actors who listen to this first outing.
It would also be worthwhile asking the writers to adapt their plays to the genre, even if only slightly, so that the recordings could do away with stage directions and character descriptions. There was a moment when the play sounded dead-aimed at the medium (when a character explained why she dresses a certain way) and then there was another section where the word "confess" was used over and over again—it was music, for a bit, and then began to annoy. However—and this is important—the production (with bang-on sound engineering by Conor Wiese-Hansen) and the play are worth a second and third listen.
Finally, on launch day, it was impossible for me and some colleagues to download the work to an iPod and so I had to listen to it on the web (which rather defeats the purpose of the project: theatre on the go).
But all of these quibbles, in the grand scheme, are not important. This is a great idea and it's quite surprising that I haven't seen more of this kind of project at iTunes (I am a devotee of podcasts).
Will such an endeavor lead to the broadcasts works themselves being produced again in actual theatres? I suspect so. But even if this is the final stop for this play and others slated in the series, it assures them a kind of posterity that 99.9999% of new works in this country never enjoy.
You can listen to Prisoner's Dilemma here
You can read The Upstage Interview with Sarah Mahoney, the company's artistic director, here.
Read a first person piece about the process here.
The play should be available, free, from the iTunes store soon.