Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Review: (Toronto) The Art of Building a Bunker... (SummerWorks)

Sense and Sensitivity
by Gregory Bunker

Original, uncomfortably funny, and ultimately unsettling, The Art of Building a Bunker or Paddling the Canoe of My Self Down the River of Inclusivity and into the Ass of the World is a brilliant one-man tragicomedy that sees an everyman unravel over the course of his much-loathed, company-mandated sensitivity training sessions. The training is so farcical that you’re almost certain Elvis, the protagonist, can quietly mock it all the way through. As we begin to learn more about Elvis, and as Elvis begins to learn more about himself, we realize how perfect the title really is.

This show is anything but sensitive. It sets the tone early with refreshing roasts of feel-good, PC mantras about respecting diversity in society. No one is spared; nothing is sacred. The recurring First Nations references, for example, are so outrageously granola and delivered with such austerity that you can’t help but burst out laughing. Funniest of all is the sensitivity training leader, who coddles and condescends to a small, diverse, caricatured group of people with accents, including Elvis. These different intonations, along with sharp wit and outstanding physical acting, allow the inexhaustible Adam Lazarus to, incredibly, assume every part in this play.

Lazarus’s comedic instinct and the nuanced script (co-written by Lazarus and Guillermo Verdecchia, who also directs) make this work both hilarious and haunting. The narrative smoothly transitions from funny to frightening, though the gusto with which Lazarus carries most of the play slows too much for too long towards the end. A less important issue is when Elvis inexplicably and presumably speaks in Hebrew, which became frequent enough at one point that I was worried the play might begin distancing an audience that was up to that point in Elvis’s pocket.

And that is the real strength of this play: the storytelling. We, like Elvis, are wondering how he will handle the growing stakes of his “training.” The play is a challenge to the cynicism of such training, a commentary on the kind of breakthroughs that they make, and how one might salvage an indiscretion (or several) by “knocking it out of the park” with dramatic contrition. Elvis shows us that with the same prompts he can knock it out of the park in an entirely different way. This is an exciting play to see and a challenging one to think about. It may well be one of the festival’s best.

The Art of Building a Bunker... is at SummerWorks

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