Friday, February 10, 2012

Review: (Montreal) Scientific Americans

Michael Blake (photo credit: Andrée Lanthier)

Mighton by the Numbers
Sidemart at Segal examines issues and offers entertainment
by Chris Lane

We all know that working for the military can take over your life. And that they are always watching you. Or is it the Soviets who are watching you? Scientific Americans, by Canadian playwright John Mighton, presents numerous questions and possible answers in a sharp, witty and multifaceted depiction of a young scientist getting drawn into the harsh world of American military research.

...there are plenty of subtle hints that there is some chilling form of external control.

Trent Pardy plays Jim, a likable and naïve physicist who lands a job doing research at a military base. While it initially appears that he has enough freedom to choose what kinds of projects he works on, he inevitably winds up involved in the development of a weapon. As his job increasingly consumes his time and energy, his already-strained relationship with his fiancée Carol, an academic played by the vivacious Julia Course, turns sour when she learns about this new development. The play is largely about Jim struggling to balance his work, his morals, and his relationship with Carol, without losing himself along the way.
The piece presents some very interesting themes, such as the power of ideas conflicting with the ethics of choosing to pursue or quash the more dangerous of one’s ideas. Paranoia is another major theme of this piece, as Jim encounters people who question the personal agency and choice of military workers and of citizens of the modern world in general, and there are plenty of subtle hints that there is some chilling form of external control. The one mouthpiece of military authority is the ranking officer who oversees Jim’s work, portrayed by Michael Blake, who skillfully comes across as so jovial and personable that it is worrisome.
Scientific Americans is a play designed to make the viewer think, and Graham Cuthbertson is a pleasure to watch as Bill, the Freudian army psychologist who pleasantly helps the audience do their thinking. The playwright has some particularly shrewd insights that Bill cheerfully shares in these enjoyable monologues that are interspersed throughout the play.  In keeping with Freudian thinking, the play includes some interactions between Jim and his emotionally distant mother. Susan Bain just about steals the show in these scenes that are both poignant and at times bitingly funny.
To depict the stark military environment, the Segal Centre’s main stage has been impressively transformed into a modern, grey workspace complete with seemingly automatic sliding stage doors. The minimalist use of video projection is particularly effective at complementing the furniture to set the stage for each scene. The sound design, which would suit a science fiction movie, is also very fitting.
Scientific Americans is being presented at the Segal Centre in association with the up-and-coming Sidemart Theatrical Grocery, and is directed by Sidemart’s own Andrew Shaver. The show runs until February 26th.

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