Monday, November 1, 2010

neptune threatre explores the meaning of life with suicide and grapefruit

welcome to post #200! i celebrated post #100 with a trip on the tall ship Mist of Avalon along the coast of nova scotia, but 200 comes with a more interior journey.

i went to see neptune theatre's 7 Stories friday night to review it for halifax magazine.

as much as i love plays, i've often grumbled that neptune's main stage plays it too safe, selecting broad comedies and melodramatic dramas with the subtlety of megaphoned protester.

not so with its new play, 7 Stories - this is good cerebral fun and i hope it's a big hit, thus encouraging neptune to give its audience a little more credit when selecting its plays.

7 Stories
The grapefruit is on the table, my friends, the grapefruit is on the table. That’s about the best piece of life-affirming advice 12 self-absorbed apartment dwellers can cobble together for a man standing on their ledge, thinking about taking the short way down in Neptune Theatre’s 7 Stories.

Morris Panych’s absurdist play explores similar territory to Nepune’s last play, Romeo and Juliet, starting with thoughts of suicide and murder, but plays it for detached laughs as the man on the ledge – known only as Man (Tom Barnett) – tries to find a reason to take the stairs.

Man, sporting a black suit and bowler cap, is set against a gorgeous sky-painted stage that deliberately evokes the Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte, whose artistic mission was to startle viewers with the absurdity of normality. That’s more or less why Man’s up there, looking down. He left for work behind schedule one day and everything fell apart, leading him to question the point of anything. He makes his way seven stories up in the hopes it will put things into perspective.

His contemplations are interrupted by a fiery couple who burst out of their window with the man (Christian Murray) trying to choke his woman (Ingrid Rae Doucet). She fights him off and they eventually notice Man and invite him to comment on their arrangement. He demurs and it never occurs to them to wonder why he’s on the ledge.

They’ve barely scrambled back inside when there is gunfire, triggering a series of visits to Man by a drunken partygoer terrified of conversational lulls (Jackie Torrens), a paranoid insomniac (Murray Furrow), a buttoned-down spinster standing in for god (Torrens again) and others.

7 Stories is the kind of play you’d normally see on the Studio stage and it’s a bold Fountain Hall selection by artistic director George Pothitos. Its laughs are deep, but subtle. Its ideas are complex and not handily resolved. It’s meta-theatrical, especially in one brilliant scene where Man shares a cigarette with an actor who has decided on-stage playing is not enough – he’s created a character to play off-stage for the rest of his life in order to make a decent living with what might normally be called massive fraud.

“Can you imagine anything more perfectly stupid?” he asks of the theatrical life. “It’s unbearably preposterous.”

And that’s the kind of thinking that brought Man to the edge facing the giant question posed by Albert Camus in the Myth of Sisyphus. “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy,” the French philosopher wrote.

Man has probably never read Camus, nor seen a Magritte, but these rich ideas permeate Panych’s play and are delivered by a superb cast that trusts its audience is smart and curious enough to have a go at answering the big questions – and being satisfied when the best answer anyone has is grapefruit.

7 Stories is at Neptune Theatre until Nov. 14. Call 429-7070 or go to for tickets.
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