by Lynn on December 11, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

Repetitive Strain Injury

At the Factory Studio Theatre, Toronto. Written by Rob van Meenen. Directed by Harry Judge. Designed by Trevor Schmidt. Lighting by Jamie Monteiro. Starring: Robin Dunne, Pat Kiely, Ava Markus, Amy Matysio, Imali Perera.

Produced by Company Kid Logic. Plays until Dec. 15.

Dave and Julie are getting married in a few days. She is stressing about party favours that her mother suggested. He’s trying unsuccessfully to fix a broken chair. They bicker. She finds a pair of women’s panties in one of his drawers. He says it was a remembrance of his single days and he forgot about it. He wanted to keep the panties just to remember. The bickering escalates and Dave leaves.

Julie answers the phone to discover it’s a telemarketer who wants to sell her a credit card. Julie stays on the phone to hear the pitch and to answer back. She’s still stressed about Dave and his stash of panties from his youth. Her tone escalates as she challenges the caller, Pia by name, about the annoying call, but really to express how upset and lonely she is. She wants to continue speaking to Pia and even to call her back because she seems so compassionate and Julie certainly needs compassion.

In the meantime, Dave goes out for a drink with his buddy Guy—who will be his best man, should the wedding take place. Guy is a kind of smarmy-smart-assed kind of guy, who thinks that women are only useful to charm in bars and take them home for sex and dump them until the next better thing comes along. Guy sees Candace, a good looking woman, and begins hitting on her with his most flamboyant come-on lines. She is repelled initially but goes home with him because she’s curious. Dave just looks into his glass of beer, dejected. The memory of those panties and his fun in getting them is not enough to cheer him, it seems.

Dave and Julie rehash. Dave slumps and looks mournful. Julie hectors and harangues. The wedding takes place. Somehow Pia does appear and has connected with Julie. Guy meets her and sees his next best thing and takes her to the wedding.

Julie and Pia become best friends over the first year of her (Julie’s) marriage. But Pia has a secret—a few actually. Julie and she get close. Dave is dejected again. The marriage is in trouble. How will it all end?

Well, badly actually, as it began. Repetitive Strain Injury is an atrocious play. Witless, unfunny, badly written, ill conceived. In his self-indulgent program note, playwright Rob van Meenen writes that he hopes that we’ll recognize ‘a bit of yourself and your life out there. Things that make you laugh. Things that make you cry. And those ‘in-betweeners that I really get a kick out of…the things that make us cringe, tremble, or just plain old-nauseous.” (well he got that one bit right.)

In the theatre we spend time with characters we wouldn’t spend time with under ordinary circumstances—murders, racists, mean-spirited—(and those are just from Shakespeare off the top of my head), but we do it because they might be well written, full bodied, have a certain charm, or because they are so a part of the social fabric.

That’s not the case with Repetitive Strain Injury. There is not one character I recognize as real, not in my life, or any life I want to know about–well, perhaps Pia might be the exception—and van Meenen isn’t a good enough writer even to come close to creating one. His characters are either sad bumblers (Dave); shrill whiners (Julie) obnoxious limp-dicks (Guy) and dim pickups who appear to have it together but then lose it all when they go with the obnoxious limp-dick (Candace). She was curious and that’s why she went with him? PULLeeeeezzze! In playwriting the aim is to write characters we CAN believe. Not ones we dismiss outright.

I don’t know or want to know anyone who would actually continue a call with a telemarketer to such an extent as Julie does just so that the playwright can show how lonely she is. All credibility, if there is any, fizzles out of that scene in seconds. The scene goes on and on. That’s a lot for an audience to endure and certainly when the scene is unbelievable. It is one in a play full of them.

It’s directed by Harry Judge, who has little experience as a director. His blocking is awkward and direction is non-existent. Of the cast of six, three are also listed as producers. Ah a make-work project. Most of their background is in television and film with precious little theatre and it shows. Subtlety and shading are absent from these in- your-face-performances. The exceptions might be Ava Markus as Candice who does have the chops; and Imali Perera as Pia who adds some dignity to a part lacking it. She is involved in a lame scene in which die and dye are interchanged that also goes on too long, and she handles it with grace.

I can’t remember the last time I spent at an opening night full of friends and family who did not laugh as much as this audience didn’t. Deadly, embarrassed silence. Dreadful.

You have until December 15 to miss it.

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1 Ian December 11, 2013 at 9:51 am

I think this review is unduly harsh and bespeaks a critic trying too hard to impress an audience at the expense of other creative people. I was also at opening night of RSI, and I disagree with the assessment of embarrassed silence. Perhaps this play wasn’t the laffer Ms Slotkin was expecting, and perhaps the play relied on cliches, but I got the sense the audience was contemplative of the dialogue, rather than trying to curl up and die. Van Meenen might not have fully mastered his subject matter, but he should take heart that he’s got an entire career to improve, while Ms Slotkin has hit her peak and looks forward to the withering future of inconsequential non-contributions to the creative sphere.