by Lynn on April 15, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Coal Mine Theatre, 1454 Danforth, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Belinda Cornish

Directed by Rae Ellen Bodie

Set and costumes by Anna Treusch

Lighting by Gabriel Cropley

Sound by Keith Thomas

Cast: Diana Bentley

Vivien Endicott Douglas

Robert Persichini

A play that starts provocatively but doesn’t deliver on that ‘promise’ but it’s given a production that is terrific.

The Story. Category E by Belinda Cornish is a futuristic cautionary tale in which humans are used as guinea pigs to produce fine products for people who want only the best in life.

Corcoran is a wheelchair bound man living in a wired enclosure with Filigree, a kind of feral woman who was raised without parents or any kind of human contact for much of her life. They are joined by Millet, a bubbly curious, engaging woman. Their lives are regimented: when to eat, shower, go for experiments etc. They are not free to wander in that facility. They must stay in their wired space until they are summoned. Millet eats her designated bowl of food that tastes terrible, even though Corcoran wants to trade with her. She refuses. Soon after arriving and eating that food she begins to change emotionally and deteriorate health-wise.

The Production. Anna Treusch has created a rectangle caged area with only an open door frame. Inside the caged area are two cots at diagonally opposite corners, a book case with games and no books.

Corcoran (Robert Persichini) is in his wheelchair in corner doing a seventeen year old crossword puzzle in a newspaper that is well-worn. Corcoran wears an eye-patch over his left eye and occasionally pokes his finger under the patch to pick out gunk. He wears a bloody bandage on his left arm that goes from his elbow to his wrist.

Another, a woman named Filigree (Diana Bentley), is lying in one of two cots in the cell. She wears a uniform, as do they all, with their identifying number on the back of their top. Filigree wears a kind of toque.

They are joined by Millet (Vivien Endicott-Douglas), inquisitive, jolly, animated. She caries a pillow and a blanket. There are three people now in the cell and only two cots. Millet is confused as to where she will sleep. Corcoran tells her to take the other cot.

When Filigree wakes she lunges at Millet and almost strangles her. Filigree’s excuse is that she had no parents, was brought up without any human interaction by an overseeing entity called “the Eye” and she behaves badly but it’s not her fault. Diana Bentley plays Filigree as a dangerous animal. She pounces when ticked off and one doesn’t know what will do that. She taunts, stares and almost hisses. Bentley gives her a voice without inflection or subtlety. The menace of the character is gripping. Of course, it makes sense, no human taught her. She has the voice of a robot/computer. At one point later in the play Filigree does comfort Millet—a vestige of humanity perhaps.

Corcoran can handle Filigree—such an ironic name, all delicacy when none is evident. As Corcoran, Robert Persichini has a mellifluous, deep voice. It can be as soft as a purr and as loud as thunder when trying to make a point and calm down Filigree. Persichini as Corcoran is a calm, deliberate presence, pencil at the ready to work on the cross-word; Persichini has a commanding voice and impressive bearing.

Occasionally a robotic voice calls out a person’s number and he/she goes. The voice announces when they can come and get their bowls of food. Each bowl has the person’s number on it. A person in the cell must get the bowls. No one takes the bowls back. They each with the people in their cell.  Sometimes in the dark a perky voice of an advertisement talks about the high end products they sell for a perfect life.

As Millet Vivien Endicott Douglas is bubbly and friendly at first, until the place and the head games to control those caged begins to work on her.

 Corcoran, Filigree and Millet are there as human guinea pigs for these high end products. One assumes that’s the reason for the eye patch and bandages, they were worked on.

While they all have names, they refer to each other as “it” so all individuality it seems has been ground out of them. I note there are board games (Monopoly) on the shelf ‘book case’, but no books to read.  None.  I feel trapped when I realize there are no books. How does one spend the time after playing a game?  And Corcoran has been doing a crossword that is 17 years old.

There is humanity in the cell, much as the ‘authorities’ have tried to take it out.  In their own stilted way these three care for each other.

Director Rae Ellen Bodie beautifully creates and controls the build of the tension of the piece as each character gradually endures more experiments, leaving us wondering what is happening to them and really, why? While Filigree is the one most likely to erupt, the others are changing in their own way.

Comment.  I think the production of Category E is much better than Belinda Cornish’s play. Context is missing. Belinda Cornish says she wondered how people could have this acceptance of the situation to be caged without wanting to escape or rail against the unknown forces holding them there.  All very well and good, but she hasn’t written that play that explores or examines it.  We don’t know how the two people initially in the cage were when they first arrived there. Were they as bubbly and naïve as Millet? I’d like to know. When does this take place? How did they get there? Why are humans used for these experiments and not animals? Is that the point?  There also seems to be experiments reminiscent of Nazi Germany.

Taking two children and separating them so that one gets to be isolated from human contact such as Filigree and one is put in a loving family situation with socks and Christmas (as Filigree says) to see how it all turns out seems a moot point. We KNOW how it will turn out because it’s been done before.  The play has such a narrow trajectory—to see how this caged situation affects the three in the cage? Can’t we guess? Is that the only point?

It’s a bit facile. Terrific performances though.

Coal Mine Theatre presents:

Opened: April 11, 2018.

Closes: April 29, 2018.

Running Time: 90 minutes.


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