Saturday, August 10, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Entitlement (SummerWorks)

Entitled to a Play
by Jason Booker

Entitlement: the fact of having a right to something. Is it wrong to hope that means a script that has been drafted and corrected, dramaturged or workshopped, thought through and questioned and, ultimately, rewritten? Does an audience have a right to expect that or is that simply a case of entitlement?

For Sugith Varughese's theatrical debut, Entitlement feels raw and unprofessional. Polished though the production may be, the script sorely stands out as the weakest element. The action of the play involves a screenwriter, Anish, (Sam Khallleh) hired to teach at a local college who fails Dylan's (Christo Graham)  final script for class and finds his methods under appeal. The action begins slowly, with conflict slowly seeping into the play and usually in a superficial way. The first 20 minutes could probably be excised altogether and many of the solo scenes simply do not push the action forward. 

Sadly, the conflict feels artificial and the piece plays as if Varughese has done his research about the problems in post-secondary education but failed to make them dramatic. For the record, his soapbox berates the entitled students who want to pass their programs, giving little effort  to assignments and gaining very little knowledge. They expect to be patted on the head for effort and feel that the act of paying tuition entitles them to a diploma and a job. 

Characterization does not come off any better. The student, Dylan, is a moron. He offensively pitches an idea about a young girl who turns into a revenge-driven prostitute because a childhood crush gave her AIDS. He believes that complaining to the dean that your instructor "is a dick" is a valid argument. He cannot define a story and believes writing is not a necessary part of filmmaking. He texts his girlfriend Sarah during important meetings. Ironically, Anish lectures about how to construct a screenplay, but Varughese clearly ignores that advice, since Entitlement's goal is vague, the ending unsatisfactory and the action simplistic as our hero faces his one-dimensional teenaged adversary.  And if it becomes impossible to cheer for the student, what conflict can really be developed as 90 minutes of unsympathetic people argue? Worse still, Dylan winds up the butt of nearly every joke in the script. Why must the script be written in such a way that the only character with an action must be loathed and only those that are not of the millennial generation are allowed to laugh?

The playwright relies on phone calls to communicate information - though he may argue it depicts our daily life now, it still feels like lazy writing. Figure out how to have two people talk on stage or have the character address the audience but a phone conversation is usually the easy way out. 

Nonetheless, the whole cast offer wonderful performances but especially the luminous Karen Robinson and the strong Sam Khalilieh. They alone cannot salvage a dumbed-down genderless reinterpretation of David Mamet's Oleanna that could definitely benefit from some stronger design choices.

Slowly paced, often predictable, Entitlement simply angered this reviewer. Please spell-check your own script next time and stop preaching to the choir.

Entitlement continues until August 18.  

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