Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Planet Connections Review - "The Procedure"

By Byrne Harrison

Immigration, gay marriage and privacy are  very hot topics right now, with very vocal advocates and critics of each flooding the media with their opinions.  While Marcus Yi settles the issue of gay marriage in his play, The Procedure, (set seven years in the future, it has become the law of the land), he takes on the issue of immigration and the consequences to the immigrants and the people they love.

At the heart of The Procedure is the relationship between Adrian (Stephen Thornton), a young man from Singapore, and his husband Jacob (Reynaldo Rivera).  They seem to be living the dream.  Both have good jobs, a solid relationship, good friends and family, and Adrian is about to become a citizen thanks to his recent marriage to Jacob.

But there is a hitch, as there always is.  In order to become a US citizen, Adrian will need to have a chip implanted in his eye.  Freedom Link! - it will serve as an internet connection.  Freedom Link! - it can connect you to social media.  Freedom Link! - it can help you shop in the blink of an eye.  Freedom Link! - it can even help you lose weight.

Freedom Link! - it tracks you.

And it will forever.

Faced with the idea of being marked and tracked, Adrian starts having second thoughts.  Can he go through with it?  Or should he convince Jacob to leave his job, family and friends and go back to Singapore. Surely if Jacob loves him, he'll want to stay with him, no matter where.  Won't he?

The play could have turned out didactic, and as a result not very interesting. Yi allows his characters to really look at the pros and cons of the situation, and agonize over the decisions.  Of course, the audience eventually finds out what Adrian's decision is, but Yi lets the deliberations be as weighty as they deserves to be.

While the play successfully deals with some serious issues, there was one issue about the story that bothered me.  The play, through a series of commercials for Freedom Link, makes the point that Freedom Link is something that is readily available to US citizens and only mandatory for new citizens.  Given that average citizens are opting for the chip, it seems less extreme for Adrian than it would be if this was something that was solely for new citizens.  As it is, Freedom Link just sounds like the latest technology that is rolling out as new technology does.  While the idea of having a chip implanted in your eye is cringe-inducing, it doesn't have the same onus as it could have if Adrian were one of the few who were to have the chip implant.

Other than that little issue, the play is interesting and thoughtful, and addresses a lot of difficult issues.

The production itself, however, is a mixed bag.   Most notably, there is a lack of chemistry between Thornton's Adrian and Rivera's Jacob.  In order to really feel that there are painful consequences of their possible separation, there has to be a feeling of a strong connection that would be severed, to the detriment of both, if they decided to split up.  That was lacking.

Both actors gave good performances otherwise, and were technically adept, but without that chemistry and connection, the performance suffered.

The rest of the cast gave mixed performances, though I suspect some of this was due to choices by Yi as playwright and director (along with Sonia Nam).  Interspersed throughout the play were late night type commercials for Freedom Link.  These were pretty much as cheesy as late night commercials are supposed to be.  Most of the other characters (Adrian's friends and family) were played realistically.  But in the middle of this was the implant doctor, played by Richard Glucksberg, who seemed to be in a completely different play.  Wildly flamboyant and painfully incompetent, I wasn't sure what Yi intended this character to be.  Granted, this scene leads into a surreal dream ballet of sorts after Adrian is drugged, and if the doctor had been as wildly over the top for that portion it would have made sense as an extension of Adrian's fears and anxieties.  And perhaps that was what Yi was going for.  However, I found it to be rather confusing.

Fenny Novyane hit all the right notes as Valerie, Adrian's mother, and had some of the most moving and funny scenes in the play.  Rounding out the cast were Shubhra Prakash and Lauren Gralton, both of whom turned in good performances.

Technical aspects of the show were pretty spare as one would expect from a festival production.  That said, scene changes were nimble and quick, which is always a plus.

While the production had issues, The Procedure is a timely and though-provocking piece of theatre and well worth a look.  There is one remaining performance on Thursday, June 20th.  Visit the Planet Connections website for details.

The Procedure
Written by Marcus Yi
Directed by Sonia Nam and Marcus Yi
Stage Manager: Brendan Carmody
Production Assistant: Taras Chopenko

Featuring: Stephen Thornton (Adrian), Reynaldo Rivera (Jacob), Fenny Novyane (Valerie), Shubhra Prakash (Dawn/Woman 1), Lauren Gralton (Ms. Williams/Woman 2/Nadine), Richar Glucksberg (Henry/Man 1/Doctor/Feldman)

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