It’s appropriate that Natalie Meisner’s new play should be premiered by a company called Solo Collective. Pink Sugar is about four people whose lives are linked inextricably. Yet at its iconic moment, the four characters stand alone near each of the corners of the oversize white bed that comprises Yvan Morissette’s set, each staring into his or her own private space.
The play has a dark, ambitious agenda: globalism and the cross-border commerce in sex, guns, and body parts. It asks serious questions about the ethics of life-saving medical procedures and the economics of human exchange across the first and third worlds. But at the preview I saw, even a couple of standout performances couldn’t help mesh together the fragments of the story and the jarring tones of the production.
Pink Sugar begins with a monologue by Spencer (David Beazely), a young Canadian soccer fan in Europe for the World Cup. He’s gotten himself into some serious trouble, and soon we meet her. Beautiful Elan (Moya O’Connell) is a hooker from the former Soviet republic of Moldova. She’s sweet as sugar in her tight pink dress but poison to Spencer who loses his wallet and passport, finds himself drugged and headed for something worse.
Meanwhile, Sylvie (Laara Sadiq), a tough Englishwoman in a black leather bulletproof vest, offers us her lessons in capitalism. She learned at an early age the value of trade, first in small arms, then the more lucrative commerce in human organs. Intersecting her speeches are the drunken ramblings of Max (Scott Bellis), an American businessman who spent years on dialysis waiting for a new kidney until he bought one on the black market. Guess whose he got.
The characters’ stories are relentlessly downbeat, especially Elan’s heavily accented tale of poverty and terrible sexual exploitation, powerfully conveyed by O’Connell. (Google Moldova. You’ll see by the ads that its most valuable export is its women.) Sadiq’s Sylvie is grim, Bellis delivers a carefully etched portrait of a desperate man who understands the bleak Darwinian economics of survival, and Beazely’s overacted Spencer is undoubtedly a victim.
But instead of varying the measured pace and dark tone of these stories, director Katrina Dunn relies on the contrasts provided by Jamie Nesbitt’s ironic projections: cartoon illustrations of pills with Elan inside them, clips of old movies like King Kong, and especially a talking, singing kidney (voiced by Dean Paul Gibson). “All of me,” the kidney sings blithely, “why not take all of me.” This cutesy device is so wrong for the play. We need to see the humans on the stage, solo or collective, making their own sense of their bitter world.