Review by Sean McQuaid
It's always a bad sign when your quibbler's watching a play and thinks to himself, "Y'know what this needs? A big rubber lizard. Yeah, that's the ticket...a rampaging rubber lizard would liven things up considerably."
Blame for such musings does not rest entirely with the play in question-other key factors include the quibbler's sordid love affair with Godzilla movies, and the fact that, during the play in question, the ailing quibbler was feigning a semblance of life only through the power of assorted cold medicines. That being said, lizard longings and the like seldom intrude upon the quibbler's thoughts unless the play in question is less than gripping-and Left Hand Theatre's March production of Acting Violently qualifies.
The show's biggest problem, as Dorothy Parker might put it, is that there isn't enough there there. Put less cryptically (and less pretentiously), it's an empty and ultimately unsatisfying effort. The execution is capable and intelligent on the part of both the playwright and the company, but it's all in the service of a fairly tired concept (says the man who enjoys giant lizards), and the execution isn't sufficiently innovative or entertaining to transcend that concept.
Written by J.J. Steinfeld, one of Prince Edward Island's most prolific and accomplished authors, Acting Violently is a play about a play: five actors (played by Lindsay Kyte, David Neatby, Steve Forbes, Tod MacLean and Erin Fagan) are staging a sometimes-scripted, sometimes-improvisational show written by an anonymous patron. Over the course of their performance, the actors and the audience are often unsure of who's who and what's happening as the line begins to blur between the actors and their characters, between performance and reality.
Steinfeld's script has its virtues. Some of the actors' "thumbnailer" monologues, their character sketches of themselves, are intriguing and illuminating. There are genuinely funny lines in the show, though these are undercut somewhat by predictable groaners (like the gag about actors who would kill for a part, hot on the heels of a character's murder). The text also has an admirably self-effacing awareness of its own anti-crowd-pleaser sensibility, with repeated references to how restless the audience must be.
Regardless, it's a tedious play. Steinfeld creates an intriguing assortment of characters, but he uses them for little more than two hours of repetitive bickering and introspection that gradually peters out into a handful of senseless deaths and an anticlimactic exit. Metadramatic musings on the nature of life and theatre can be fascinating, as can absurdist drama in general, but this particular exercise doesn't do anything terribly novel or compelling with those well-worn notions.
The cast, directed by Dean Constable and stage managed by Tammy Rose, all have their moments. Kyte and MacLean are probably the most consistently energetic and confident performers in a seemingly unsure and tentative cast. MacLean nets the lion's share of the laughs as the lewdly lusty Thad, a part he plays with disgusting gusto. Kyte is a sturdy foil for him as the oft-unimpressed Faye, but her ever-gesturing hands are one of several things that make an observer wonder, on occasion, if the cast is acting badly or doing a good job of portraying bad acting. None of this is helped by a seating configuration that offers less than ideal sight lines.
Acting Violently is not without merit. The issues it addresses, such as the nature of violence, are worthy of consideration, and Steinfeld ponders them with discerning wit. It's definitely smarter than the average giant rubber lizard movie...though nowhere near as fun.