The Disappearing Act

by Lynn on March 4, 2011

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Pia Bowman Theatre. Written and performed by Allan Royal. Directed by Pam Brighton. Costumes by Gilles Savard. Photography by Jason Jones.

Three men tell us their stories. The first unnamed man is a smiling, baritoned fellow who seems to be a stand-up comedian. He comes on singing an old standard. He wears the ‘uniform’ of a long time ago: a white tuxedo jacket, a white silk scarf, a black t-shirt and grey slacks. He segues into jokes from a long time ago too. He points to someone in the audience and says that he sees that he’s with his mistress. There are other cheesy comments and songs. He laughs at his own jokes. He says that he recalls his friend Stan Mellow and how he saved his life. More banter.

Then the lights change and the man takes off his jacket and scarf and lays them on the stool. He turns and we see written on the back of his black t-shirt is the name “Mellow” and a number underneath. He is obviously in prison.

Mellow’s section is told centre stage, either sitting in a chair or walking around it. Mellow says he had a good family and was respected by the community but got into trouble. He sold drugs. He killed a prostitute and was imprisoned for it and today was the day he was going to be executed. He tells his story to an unseen priest. He muses on life and its value. Is his life as a murderer worth less than a high-powered corrupt businessman who cheats the public of millions of dollars?

Mellow walks stage left; picks up a shirt off the floor, puts it on and becomes another character who quietly rages in a deeper voice about the lack of morals, conscience and responsibility in society. Waste, greed and corruption in government and business consume his anger at the world.

The theme of disappearing into oneself and from oneself is a focus of The Disappearing Act. Allan Royal plays all three men and easily changes from one to the other. Each character is clearly distinct, not just because of the slight costume changes, but also because of the care with which Royal distinguishes each man. The body language is different, the variation in the voice is as well.

Suspended at the back of the theatre is a photograph torn in three parts, of a man’s face. In one part is the right eye and part of the nose; in the middle part is perhaps the nose; in the last part is the other eye. It’s probably the same face, but one is not sure. As each character speaks, director Pam Brighton has a section of the photograph illuminated. Does the section of the illumination belong to the man speaking? One wonders. There is nuance, subtlety and quiet pacing in the performance of each character.

Royal also wrote this play and it is full of perception of a corrupt world and the fury that rages in some people because of it. He has an almost poetic turn of phrase; an elegant sense of expression. The writing is vivid and he does pose interesting questions about self worth and wanting to disappear.

But there are several areas that are problematic. Considering the theme of disappearance, are these three characters the same person? I don’t think it’s obvious. Is it supposed to be obvious? If they are the same person then what’s the point of it? Royal has to clarify this because it’s murky.

Except for the man on death row, I don’t know who the other two characters are and I should if I am to take what they are saying seriously. I think it does damage to the play to start with the singing comedian who seems more taken with himself and his lame jokes. “Who are you?” I kept on asking as he blathers on and on about himself and how he saved Mellow’s life. I still don’t know at the end of the play.

The last character, that puts on the shirt from the floor, is also a mystery. “Who are you? And where has your rage come from and why.” We need context. Otherwise this looks less like a play and more like a reason to rant.

The DISAPPEARING ACT plays at the Pia Bowman Dance Theater, 6 Noble Street, until March 6, 2011

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