by Lynn on April 28, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Tarragon Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Fabrizio Filippo
Directed by Richard Rose
Light and Set Design by Jason Hand
Costumes by Charlotte Dean
Video design by Kurt Firla
Sound design by Dylan Green
Cast: John Bourgeois
Rachel Cairns
Fabrizio Filippo
Kelli Fox
Maggie Huculak
Tony Nappo
Alon Nashman

An interesting premise for a play gets buried in self-indulgent, incomprehensible techno-babble. As always when the play goes wrong, the cast works valiantly and with huge commitment.

The Story. The man known only as Khan has died. He was a mysterious tech visionary and the head of a huge tech empire. He was also a control freak who wanted to manipulate his employees and loved ones both alive and dead. Under the tightest and latest of security precautions several people are summoned for the reading of the will in a second rate hotel near the Toronto airport. Those in attendance are: Annie, the operator of the hotel, a former lover of Khan, and once a brilliant tech mind; Aldous is Annie’s son and we are led to believe that Khan is his father. Aldous helps Annie in the hotel and is a bit of a techno wiz too; Gary is Khan’s mega company president; Laura is a high-powered, over-sexed lawyer; Isla is Aldous’ girlfriend and an airline hostess who was helpful to Khan when she assigned him a window seat on a flight; Quentin is the harried, intense security consultant responsible for every aspect of security for this will reading.

We find out how all the characters dealt with Khan and what they thought of him. We also get a good idea about him too by how he treated these people. Annie ignored his daily pleas to see him. He e-mailed her for a year asking her to see him. She refused. He took her ideas and didn’t give her credit. That was one hurt woman. Gary made a fortune because of Khan and lost it because of him too. Laura has her own sexual connection with Khan. Aldous forms a relation with Khan ‘after the fact.’ Quentin is a bundle of ideas and is anxious to do the job properly. Isla seems amused to be along for the ride.

The Production. “If it can be done, it will be done” is projected on the stage wall of the Tarragon Theatre when the audience files in as a kind of tease. Somehow that phrase does not properly follow the thrust of the play, which sometimes seems to be: “If you think of it, it can be done.” Most of the time, though, the point of the play seems to be: “How far from our nature can technology take us?”

With the back wall acting as a screen, tech terms are blasted onto it at the speed at which our various devices become obsolete. There are historical references to the various kinds of computers there have been over time to illustrate Khan’s prodigious imagination. Aerosol is sprayed at timed intervals at those attending the will reading because those were Khan’s instructions. We learn that the aerosol might be a further component of Khan’s tech development. Khan thought beyond robots as a form of creation.

Initially Aldous stands before us and notes in a rather rambling riff how many Google references there are too the name ‘Annie Mann’. Annie Mann is his mother’s name. Aldous tells us what she wants, feels and thinks while she stands looking at him. He assumes she wants to ask him something but she can’t ask. Later there will be a recording of a voice that will tell Aldous about Annie as well, making assumptions about her that are obviously not true. Aldous doesn’t balk at this even though his experience knows it is false.

At times it sounds as Fabrizio Filippo is playing both Aldous and Khan although Filippo is only noted as playing Aldous in the program. At times Filippo’s voice is amplified when he talking to us, as if in a lecture, and when talking to a character such as Annie he uses his own unamplified voice. In any case whoever he’s playing his acting is bland and unvaried. I sense a smugness about it.

As for the rest of the cast, they are valiant, as is always the case when the play is a dead-weight. Leave it to the actor to try and lift up the play. They act with heart, commitment, emotion and intensity. Maggie Huculak plays Annie as a stalwart woman who has been betrayed, abandoned and ignored. Watch her as she sits, deadened, as the rest read the will with intense interest. All she has is her son and her devotion is fierce. While Kelli Fox as Laura is boldly confident, her only purpose seems to be to show Khan’s lack of loyalty to Annie, in that Laura slept with Khan while he was with Annie. John Bourgeois as Gary, is perfectly fitting as a confident, prosperous-looking corporate head of a company, complete with angry fits and even emotional outburst. Rachel Cairns as Isla, has the confidence and whimsy of a woman who doesn’t have a stake really in what’s going on. She finds it all mildly amusing. Tony Nappo plays Quentin, the cell-phone snapping security man with both arrogance and a harried attention to the detail set out by Khan. Nappo is funny and compelling in his blustery way.

I’m surprised at how pedestrian director Richard Rose’s staging is. Characters stand in a line and talk. Later at the reading of the will they sit in a row of swivel chairs and talk.

Kudos to the tech staff for co-ordinating the projections, the video and voice over effects seamlessly and to the calm stage manager, Kate Sandeson, for feeding Fabrizio his lines when he called for them, twice.

Comment. The Summoned is a mess of pretension. It’s billed as a “technological thriller.’ It’s not a thriller by any stretch of the imagination. Playwright Fabrizio Filippo bombards the audience with techno-jargon in place of dialogue and a narrative that establishes a point, a thesis and any well developed characters to carry it off. We hear about how and what characters are about from other characters, rarely from the characters’ actions and thoughts themselves. The most intriguing character is Khan and we never see him. In diabolical form Khan has formulated problems that will require ‘product’ to solve the problem, thus ensuring more power and money for his company. Interesting but so esoteric. There are two instances in which Filippo has suggested a moral dilemma for characters but has not written them fully enough so they would know how to make the decision as to what to do in such cases. And just presenting the dilemma does not naturally follow that the audience will care to think about the dilemma themselves.

Filippo states the following sentence twice: “How far from our nature can technology take us.” It’s an interesting thought to be explored in a play. The Summoned isn’t it.

The Tarragon Theatre Presents:

Opened: April 27, 2016.
Closes: May 29, 2016.
Cast: 6; 3 men, 3 women.
Running Time: 90 minutes.

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1 Reeva Solomon April 30, 2016 at 10:05 pm

Much better review of why the play is so dead on its feet. I was watching my watch for it to finish. It finally picked up when all was revealed. I agree, too clever by half.