Friday, February 10, 2017

Cannibals Alone (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Dystopia often seems the most dramatically effective way for fiction to make a political argument. Please forgive the dryness of that sentence and bear with me.

In the wake of the 2016 Presidential Election, the theatre community in Los Angeles (and no doubt elsewhere) wants to react.  I'm part of that community. Believe me, you can taste it in the air.  Cannibals Alone at Theatre Unleashed marks the first such I've seen in 2017 (at least one other event happened but I couldn't make it).  And as you perhaps might guess from the opening, the play makes for a powerful dystopia.

Not that it has such obvious elements as eveyone having a number instead of a name, telescreens everywhere reporting the Thought Police, calming drugs given out wholesale to keep folks from wanting to complain--not even an annual sporting event where the ruling class makes poor children fight to the death on live t.v.

It does however, portray an alternate future just a few years hence.  One that feels chillingly possible.  The play chronicles not how a police state operates, but how a single flaw turns life into a tragedy.

Rae (Courtney Sara Bell) and Mags (Heather Lynn Smith) live...somewhere in America.  Not too far from Canada--whatever that means--and aways outside some small, unnamed town.  They live in some kind of farmhouse, armed to the teeth and on edge to put it mildly.  We slowly get hints of how this world differs from our own, initially with the ominous term "Medical Police."

What the hell are the Medical Police?

That emerges slowly, as we learn "Depos" are people with "it" (presumably HIV) deported into concentration camps.  Each is forced have a D tattooed on their cheeks, with it becoming legal to shoot such on sight if they aren't in a camp.  Callie (Margaret Glaccum) is an escapee who comes to Rae and Mags' house in the middle of the night, terrified, hungry, hoping they will help.  She's also ashamed, since she was once a nice person as she puts it.  Now, she hopes members of the Medical Police will be tortured to death as slowly as possible.  From such hints--coupled with the seemingly ordinary details like Mags' parents have retired to Florida, the casual mention of the Mexican Wall, etc.--let the audience know we're in a nightmare in the very near future.

What also slowly emerges--and this depends not so much on Steph DeFerie's script but the performances coupled with Julia Plostnieks' direction--is the tragic flaw of these people and of their society.  Our society.  Literally every single character and very nearly every single act in the play stands revealed as tainted, lacking something we like to call "human."

Compassion.  It seems all but gone.

Callie, who longs for vicious revenge, seems almost the only one who has more than a drop.  Rae's younger brother was carted away by the Medical Police.  Megs is not only her best friend but his as well.  Neither really dwells on anything positive, but seethe in rage and hatred at those whom they hold responsible.  Even Megs, who seems the more humane of the two--she at least makes a kind of human connection with others.  Sometimes.  Maybe.  Both however display a cheerful sadism when confronted by others who might even seem to be a threat.  Little wonder when they finally meet Val (Ann Hurd), motivated like them by a love that only emerges as a cruel lust of revenge, she brings their own horrors to the surface.

This play, happily but also harrowingly, manages to give a political message without ever stating it, rather letting it emerge as one contemplates the characters and their story.  It results in a chilling, powerful night of theatre that might easily make your skin crawl.  After all, by defintion, a dystopia is a visit into a chamber of horrors from which its natives can find no living escape.

Cannibals Alone plays Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8pm until March 4, 2017 at the Belfry Theatre (above the Crown) at 11031 Camarillo Street (just west of Lankershim), North Hollywood CA 91602.

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