by Lynn on October 22, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Factory Theatre, Mainspace

Creator/performer, Adam Lazarus
Creator/director, Guillermo Verdecchia
Designed by Camellia Koo
Lighting by Michelle Ramsay
Sound by Richard Feren

From the program: A play about sensitivity training that is anything but sensitive.

The Story. Elvis (not that one), a nervous, uptight, angry man, is having a bad week. He has been sent to a week-long sensitivity training course to try and train him to deal with some of his issues. If he doesn’t take the course and pass, he will lose his job. He secretly criticizes everybody in the course, especially his oh-so-sensitive instructor, Cam.

They have to name the one person who is preventing them from being their best selves. Elvis has vowed never to tell anyone about the person who is preventing him from moving on with his life. One assignment is to write an essay about their demons. Elvis is struggling with it. “Struggling’ is the operative word for him. He is struggling to find peace in the horrible world full of war, disease, terror and noise. He is struggling to find quiet and be left alone. This means hiding in his basement bunker away from his concerned, but whiney wife and little baby. And he is struggling to pass the sensitivity course so he won’t lose his job.

The Production. Camellia Koo has created an evocative set of connecting pipes that at first suggest the bunker, then the room where the sensitivity course takes place, and perhaps an office. There is a desk stage left and a canoe suspended above the set. Cam frequently refers to them all in a canoe paddling to their better selves.

Elvis appears for his sensitivity course. He is initially angry at the whole business and contemptuous of the leader (Cam) and other participants. As the play continues other emotions appear; fear being the main one. Elvis was afraid when he read for his bar mitzvah. He is fearful of the world he is living in with the bad air; disease that is sweeping the world; religious intolerance; racism; the future; the past; people who take up three seats on the subway; his rude neighbour and his impetuous decision to have her evicted.

At this point Adam Lazarus as Elvis is a whirl of confusion, conviction, sadness, desperation and sorrowfulness. In a way he is having a nervous breakdown in front of us. It is emotionally compelling. When this happens he is trying to find peace and quiet in his basement bunker. We hear his concerned wife off in the distance, a high pitched mumbled voice wondering if she can come down to see it he’s ok. He quickly tells her she can’t come down. He is sharp when he says he wants to be left alone and to find quiet. But he also obviously loves her and their baby.

It’s a performance rich in ticks, idiosyncrasies, edginess and broad strokes. And in his way, Lazarus shows us a wounded, fragile-minded Elvis who obviously needs help, and sensitivity training is the least of it.

He is ably helped by his director, Guillermo Verdecchia. The pace builds slowly but then when it gets to breakneck speed there is a sense of breathlessness about the whole production that is so appropriate for a man losing not only his breath but much more.

Comment. Creators Adam Lazarus and Guillermo Verdecchia know how to mine those things that would drive anyone crazy. It’s a world of noise, lack of respect; inconsideration and dealing with it. The writing is quirky and blazing. Some of the participants’ insensitivity make one wince. There are racist jokes that are eye-popping in their tastelessness. Lazarus and Verdecchia do not soft peddle any of it which is refreshing in its way.

The piece can do with cutting and tightening. Interestingly Elvis is not building a bunker to protect his family from the awful world. He is building it to protect himself. The title is also metaphoric. The bunker can also be compared to the isolation Elvis has created for himself.

The most important question is never answered: what did Elvis do in his government job to warrant him being sent to the sensitivity training course in the first place? And also not asked is why he isn’t sent for therapy because he certainly needs it. Elvis is dissolving into his own desperate world as the play goes on. Our hearts do go out to him. Why is he not forced to get help? Two glaring unasked questions in the writing. Terrific performance though.

Produced by Factory Theatre in partnership with QuipTake

First performance: October 11, 2014
Closes: Nov. 2, 2014
Cast: 1 man
Running time. 90 minutes.

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