Drama: Pilot Episode
February 2 to March 3, 2012
Martha Cohen Theatre
I like dramatic theatre. I am fond of comedy on the stage. In fact, I am also a fan of theatrical film noir motifs, avant garde plays, anti-narrative turns, post-modern scripts and song and dance punctuated shows. But I don’t necessarily want them all presented together in one play. Especially when the underlying story the genres are trying to tell isn’t overly compelling in the first place. Welcome to Drama: Pilot Episode, a play that hopefully will not be picked up for syndication.
Written by Karen Hines, the play centers on Dr. Penelope Douglas, a Forensic Psychiatrist who has moved west to Calgary after some “incident” in Toronto forced her to begin anew. Upon checking into her hotel, she is told that the very important Banff Film Festival is taking place in town and that there are no car and drivers to be found as a result. Cabs apparently don’t exist anymore in Calgary we are told by the hotel receptionist. OK, so we are watching an altered reality/noir-ish type of play it seems. Fine, I’m ok with that.
The action then moves to a local psychiatrist’s office where Penelope seeks out advice on treating live patients in her new practice. The scene is replete with knee-slapping yuk-yuk jokes and a buffoonish male psychiatrist that would be easily at home on any run of the mill primetime TV must-see program. OK, so we’re in for a “crazy comedy” night in the theatre. Sure, I’m there.
Several short vignette scenes follow that once again change the momentum and place of the play. An extremely well written and witty exchange with Penelope’s pregnant oil-wife friend Columbia moves the play to the black-comedy part of town. An equally intriguing scene in which Penelope learns about her recently purchased condo’s roots in Native lore from her slick sales brochure-speaking real estate agent, hauls the play into graphic novel territory. Frankly at this point I’m a little woozy from all the switches. And it did not help that peppered amongst all these scenes was, in no particular order, an anti-narrative vignette in which a dead bird drops out of the sky, a ghost-like girl wandering around at the back of the stage, the ongoing lip-bleed from an animal claw in Penelope’s lipstick, cast members exiting the stage into the aisles projecting zombie-like throat noises and several un-funny silly comedic exchanges.
And we haven’t even got to the real plot arc yet. Unfortunately by the time we do watch Penelope’s first patient, a TV writer, hang himself in her bathroom and the resulting desire for his unpublished scripts by a television executive and an actress, I am so frustrated by all the unnecessary moments, dropped threads and genre changes that I am having trouble caring about what happens. By the time we’re lead to question if one of the dead writer’s scripts is actually being played out on stage or if Penelope is in fact a “Swamp Master” – a band of rouge psychiatrists that go into the underworld to help patients, no I’m not making this up – I am wholly and utterly mentally checked up due to disinterest.
In a glass-half-full world, Drama: Pilot Episode does offer audiences some stellar performances. Lindsay Burns as the TV executive, Mabelle Carvajal as Columbia, and Alana Hawley as the actress all pull extraordinarily good performances out of a questionable play and benefit greatly from getting the best lines the script has to offer. Scott Reid’s minimal set design which hangs cow skulls and one full cow skeleton at the back of the stage and modern red leather benches on set is sleek without being too cool for school. And despite the unappetizing mash-up of just too many ideas with too little coherence, Hines does deliver some very affecting writing that at turns is funny and though-provoking. Too bad it’s all wasted in a tedious play that throws every genre at its audience hoping that something will stick.
For the guys and the girls and the occasional theater goer and the theatre junkie – I couldn’t think of a good reason to break out the explanations of why this won’t appeal. It’s pretty universal to my mind. SKIP IT