by Stéphane Hogue
trans. Joseph Long
Pi Theatre Performance
November 3–19 $16/$12 |
Does TV rot our brains? Is the pornographic violence of Hollywood films responsible for the social violence that plagues our children’s lives? Do copycat crimes prove a cause-effect relationship between violent media images and antisocial behaviour?
These are the questions posed, tongue somewhat curiously in cheek, by Québecois playwright Stéphane Hogue’s Carnage, produced by Pi Theatre in its world English-language premiere.
“How far can you go? asks a character, referring to both the entertainment media and the play itself. “Are there limits to bad taste?” Pushing those limits, the play achieves some potent theatrical moments but hardly scratches its subject’s sociological surface.
Underlining our dependency on television and our complicity in the violence about to be exposed, the production invites audience members to sit on couches, the program looks like TV Guide, and the concession sells TV dinners. The set consists of a couch, a large video screen and a couple of TV’s.
The play opens with mom and dad (Melanie Yeats and Billy Marchenski) on the couch, mesmerized by TV reports of schoolyard violence, road rage and other atrocities. “Yesterday I caught our 12 year old son masturbating,” says mom, unaffectedly, in the play’s first line. That turns out to be the least of it. Seems Junior is also involved in the violent sexual abuse of 5 year old neighbour Sophie, whose own couch potato parents (Shana Orlowsky and Daniel Martin) we’ll meet later.
Sandwiched between the two couples are sequences of a TV show whose host (Josue Laboucane) and actors re-enact scenes from popular movies in order to analyze their violence. In one (fictional) De Niro flick called Carnage, a psycho (Ryan Egan) bursts into a party of beautiful young people and subjects them to various sexual humiliations before shooting off his own penis.
In another, by which time we don’t know whether we’re watching a TV re-enactment or “real life,” a crazed Santa massacres host, actors and all.
One of the ideas discussed by the host is “ironic displacement,” the use of humour within graphic scenes of violence to create an aesthetic distance that causes us to minimize or dismiss the actual effects such violence might have on us.
The play is full of such ironic displacement, from the absurdly flat matter-of-factness with which Junior’s parents discuss the most horrific events, to a Santa sex scene. It’s difficult to know what we’re supposed to feel, much less think, about it all.
Billed as an Emerging Artists Showcase, the production features eleven attractive young actors just out of theatre school, although five of them have little to do. Director Tammy Isaacson hasn’t yet found the rhythm of the piece, especially in the couch scenes, and the performances are uneven, with Martin, Orlowsky and Egan having the most success.
But there’s much food for thought here and some vivid images.