ashley marie pike photo by rena kossatz
“Do you understand, you piece of shit?” one character asks another in Litmus Road, playing at the Bus Stop Theatre until Sunday as part of the Queer Acts Festival. One almost feels as though playwright Evan Brown were addressing the audience directly.
Somewhere in the realm of 1984 and V for Vendetta is Brown’s science fiction dystopian world where the quest for Artificial Intelligence has led to a genocide of homosexuals as doctors seek to cure them by genetically re-programming them and turning them (basically) into once-human Sims characters, who are then abused and manipulated for the sport of the doctors. Brown throws in references to the homosexual Father of Computer Science Alan Turing along with a process by which the audience is never quite sure whether the characters are entirely human or not, nor where they are in time, or how far along they are in their “re-programming” journey.
Brown has some fantastic and fascinating ideas here, along with some well-written dialogue, yet as a whole the play is problematic in its construction. Firstly, Brown makes consistent use of Brecht’s Alienation Effect, not allowing the audience to connect to any of the characters and thus making it difficult for one to care very deeply about them. One would assume this was meant so that the audience would be encouraged to look at the play intellectually, as opposed to emotionally. Yet, this too is difficult. Brown reveals his information to his audience slowly and through convoluted twists and turns that are confusing and vague so the audience spends much of the play just simply trying to grasp what exactly is going on. Sadly, there is no moment where the audience, triumphant, is able to put the last piece of the mystery in place and come to a communal revelation. Instead Garry Williams’ character finally gives the audience the answers they have been seeking. At this point it is too much exposition, far too late. And, to what effect? If we are supposed to be thinking critically about the historical extermination of people based on their sexual orientation what is different about this fictional genocide that we are meant to be considering? What new insights into genocide and homophobia and why it is wrong is Brown offering us? Why, then, aren’t we allowed to be invested in the human lives that are at stake here? Why does Brown do everything in his power to make all his characters untouchable robots? If we are meant to see the parallels between Artificial Intelligence in our own society, Sims characters and Siri, for example, the stakes of Hugo Dann’s evil, fascist mastermind need to much higher so that we care about this dystopic world as though it could be our own future, rather than being entirely alienated from it.
There are lots of interesting moments in this play, some quite jarring, like a robot dance to “Blue Moon,” and the company of actors are throwing every ounce of their commitment and talent to trying to make their characters live under very complex circumstances. Often, Brown’s plays remind me of T.S. Eliot poems. The Wasteland is a classic of the literary cannon: intellectual, poetic, insightful and smart, but there’s probably a reason it doesn’t often get adapted for the stage.
Litmus Road plays at the Bus Stop Theatre (2203 Gottingen Street) Saturday and Sunday at 7:30pm as part of the Queer Acts Festival and Halifax Pride. All shows $12 Regular, $10 Student, Seniors, Underwaged. Festival Pass – $35
BUY TICKETS ONLINE HERE or visit the box office at The Bus Stop Theatre, 2203 Gottingen St.