Review: ON TOP

by Lynn on March 18, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Tarragon Theatre Workspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written and Directed by Daniel Karasik
Cast: Krista Colosimo
Michael Goldist
Jess Salgueiro

The Story. Zach is a well-dressed man who tells us that he saw a sex-worker during his lunch hour, not for sex, but seemingly to be abused. Later he says he went home, packed a bag and prepared to leave his wife Lisa. Lisa is his take-control, overbearing, aggressive wife. In this marriage she is the dominatrix to Zach’s submissive. He is an Iraq war veteran. He makes a good living as a management consultant—he loves telling Lisa how much he made after taxes to prove his point (over $200,000). She feels he is lacking in ambition and wants him to do better. Does this mean she wants him to turn the tables and dominate her?

Lisa is a woman of colour, a point that often comes up in their conversation which leads into comment about racism etc. According to the show’s press release, “Zach is an Iraq war veteran, management consultant, a husband, and a father. Lisa is a neoconservative scholar, a freelance writer, a wife and a mother. Join them as they roam landscapes of power—he Middle East’s shattered cities, the vortex of global markets, their bedroom with the paddles—and try to figure out who’s in charge.”

Lisa and Zach are interviewed? Interrogated? Questioned? by a third person, a woman. It’s not clear if she is the sex-worker, a marriage counsellor or a reporter doing an interview for a story.

The time shifts back and forth from the present day to when Zach was fighting in Iraq. He would call home during his tour of duty and both he and Lisa would express their tender love for each other and that they missed each other. In the present tense the couple bickered.

The Production. The stage in the Tarragon Theatre Workspace is completely bare of any prop or furniture. Zach comes forward wearing a smart suit and tie and tells us he has just been to a sex worker. As Zach, Michael Goldlist is soft-spoken, perhaps a bit embarrassed and unsettled. Behind him is a well dressed woman who caresses his arms while he’s speaking to us. She nuzzles his neck and is seductively physical. We don’t know if that is the sex worker or Lisa in one of her calmer moments when she isn’t trying to dominate him. The tenderness of that female character would have been out of place if that woman is the sex worker. And the same thing if that woman is Lisa, who likes to take control and not be ‘tenderly sensual. Confusing.

When Lisa is in full force, Jess Salgueiro who plays her, is commanding, arrogant in her confidence and a touch condescending.

While both actors do imbue their characters with ‘human’ traits, the intention really seems to be to dispense as many and various esoteric ideas as quickly as possibly in language that would not be out of place in a graduate seminar: “trope” hegemony” “bilateral” etc.

The woman questioning them sits in the audience, initially innocuous, until she asks her first question. Krista Colosimo plays her with a nice sense of command. She asks about the marriage, the child, their parenting. Lisa and Zach seem unprepared for such simple questions and slighted when the questioning becomes too personal. Also Lisa puts on a slightly sarcastic attitude when spouting stereotypical comments that it’s the man’s place to make the decisions. She says this with her arm looped through his, giving his arm a little squeeze.

Again, who is this interrogator is a question running through the evening. That we are not clearly told is one of the many frustrations of the piece.

Daniel Karasik has directed his own production. Most often Zach and Lisa stand forward talking to us about each other. Occasionally they do face each other. In the Iraq scenes both face each other and slowly walk toward and back away suggesting the distance between them. Sometimes they would circle each other in an adversarial way. Too often Karasik deliberately upstages his actors, with one standing at the back listening and the other standing forward talking. The one at the back might not ‘be in the scene’ but he/she certainly is present in our view.

But then the person at the back does enter into conversation and the person downstage has to twist/turn (feet still facing forward) to carry on the conversation. Too awkward for words. One gets a sympathetic crick in the neck for the person who has to twist and turn.

Comment. Daniel Karasik loves to write. He writes poetry, fiction, Facebook E-Zine commentary, and plays.. He fills his plays with interesting questions; relationships that are being challenged; characters going through hard times. Daniel Karasik has been writing plays since he was a teenager. He is now in his late twenties. One smiles patiently at his attempts to be deep in his writing and one feels with more life experiences he might achieve his goal of writing a thoughtful, deeply reasoned work. On Top is not it.

On Top is not a play. It’s a polemic. Zach and Lisa are not quite credible characters but are rather talking heads spouting their (the playwright’s?) idea of dogma; political, philosophical, socio-economical blather. They relentlessly talk at each other rather than to each other, each trying to score points off the other, rarely listening. Rather than being perceptive about their marriage, relationships, the world, they come off as merely pretentious if not pompous.

Karasik asks us to figure out who is in charge in that marriage, who has the power? I have to ask, why should we bother? What is so compelling about either Zach or Lisa that we should care about a couple who thinks one should have more power than the other in this marriage? Karasik hasn’t written them credibly enough to bother with an answer. More troubling is that the question is asked at all.

Presented by the On Top Collective.

First performance: March 15, 2016.
I was able to see it: March 17, 2016.
Closes: March 20, 2016.
Cast: 3; 1 man, 2 women.
Running Time: 1 hour.

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