Monday, August 13, 2007

PLAY: FRINGE, "Not From Canada"

How existential can you get when you're busy covering a table with push-top soap dispensers? The answer, provided by Kevin Doyle's funny but overlong play Not from Canada, is "very." It's a commercially branded No Exit, a satire that stresses the banality of an identity-less society by sticking three amnesiacs in a room. Cute Guy, Cute Girl, and Not-So-Cute Girl are exactly that, and nothing more: their fate is to recount postmodern narratives in a clipped and incredulous tone as a French waiter exaggeratedly ignores them. With intentionally racist observations about our segregated culture, Doyle breaks the ice by having them all realize what they have in common: they are white and have clothes on from Malaysia (and so therefore must be friends). The show continues in this vein, looking at the concerns of affluent idiots who fear the abundance of choice, celebrate the necessity of useless sales, and get lost in the corporate machine: "Is it a Target-Taco Bell or a Taco-Target Bell?

The success of Doyle's script is that we understand even with identities, these characters would still be vacuous, the sort of people who thrive on unintentional witticisms like: "I hate ice. I prefer my soda naturally cold from artificial cooling." And the main characters, Ishah Janssen-Faith, Paul Newport, and Macha Ross manage to keep the energy up despite their sedentary prose. However, Doyle's script slowly becomes more surreal: the characters our three "heroes" talk about (like "A Spanish or Hispanic Woman") sit at other tables and noiselessly dance in the background with one another, but they are no better than empty shells: they are caricatures.

At some point, Not from Canada becomes a satire without a target, and the play starts to grow yawningly empty. After the first hour, not even the appearance of "A Large Panda Bear" can alleviate what's become droning, and the multiple endings make it obvious that Doyle doesn't quite know how to end his play. But there's a lot of potential, and a lot of cold, calculated humor, so I'm holding out.

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