Enjoying its world premiere at Alberta Theatre Projects, Geoffrey Simon Brown’s The Circle is a new Canadian play that has been touted as a must-see for anyone under the age of 25. A bold claim if ever there was one. For The Circle suffers from an uninspired narrative, flat characters, and forced dialogue. In fact, young people may find themselves put off by the dishonesty staged in this “provocative” new play.
Directed by Anne Marie-Kerr, The Circle stages a late-night garage party, in the suburbs of Calgary, hosted by 18-year old Ily (Joe Perry) and his girlfriend Amanda (Eliza Benzer). Well, it was never supposed to be a party, just a small get-together with Will (Daniel Fong) and his boyfriend Daniel (Brett Dahl). But Ily just had to invite his childhood friend Tyler – or Mutt (Brown) as he’s known now – after reconnecting with him. And much to the annoyance of Amanda, Mutt brings with him another unexpected guest, his girlfriend Kit (Leanne Govier). The crowded get-together takes a turn for the worst when Ily realizes that a lot has changed in the years since he last saw Mutt.
Audiences will immediately notice the very liberal use of ‘fuck’ and other profanities spoken by the six troubled youth. With no adults around, it makes sense that the six teenagers (who range between 15 – 18) speak the way they do. The problem is, what does ‘fuck’ mean after the twentieth time? In the pursuit of authenticity, Brown weakens the audience’s emotional response to moments where cursing is justified, where a character really has nothing else to say but ‘fuck’.
And truthfully, Brown fails to give teenagers enough credit by suggesting that they are not capable of speaking their minds without resorting to excessive cursing.
Furthermore, Brown’s efforts towards authenticity gets in the way of telling a compelling story. Inside the garage, the kids drink, smoke pot, and just chill out. As long as the music is loud and pumping, nothing else matters – except for maybe Amanda’s AP classes. At first, the novelty of staging such an intimate look into the ‘secret lives of teenagers’ is fun, but the lack of any significant plot development is a real wet blanket. The audience knows Ily and Mutt will eventually come to blows as Mutt says and does all the wrong things at the party, but until then the audience is trying to figure out what this party and these kids are all about.
Slowly, but surely, Brown reveals what these kids are all about, and it is very simple: they are young and just trying to figure life out. All easier said than done, of course, especially in the face of loss and damaged relationships. The issues at hand will certainly resonant with some audience members, but unfortunately the characters lack any depth worth investing in. The haste in trying to establish authenticity for six characters while trying to remain edgy derails the dialogue, making it feel as forced as just about any hashtag or meme spoken out loud.
Much has been made about the fact that Brown is a 26 year old playwright. We have to assume that the point of mentioning Brown’s age is that we are going to tell ourselves that if anyone is going to write about young people with any success, it is going to be a young new playwright. That is not the case here. The representation of youth staged here feels out of touch with the complexity that defines adolescence. No doubt, Brown’s writing has the potential to tell many truths, but in trying to capture a broad image of youth, Brown captures very little of it. There is much to be desired in terms of proper time with these youth not just for the sake of a worthwhile narrative, but for young people to recognize themselves in the mirror that the stage always holds to the audience.
Kerr’s direction sees the six youth animated as if they were in a music video or Degrassi: The Next Generation montage. All sorts of antics take place inside the garage, strangely none of them are documented on social media. The blocking certainly reflects fun, but Kerr might do well to let scenes sit and breathe every once in awhile.
Jennifer Lee Arsenault’s costume design is mostly on point, but Kit’s goth/punk appearance looks dated by at least 10 years. Myspace might be a better fit for Kit than this high school party. The same can be said about Anton de Groot’s sound design (Eminem’s Without Me was released in 2002), but the soundtrack is mainly successful in getting that youthful spirit.
We learn being a high school dropout stoner is not exactly the life Ily wants for himself, but the party is too good to worry about that now. In Perry’s performance, we see Ily’s fear and regret that he tries to push down with good times. Benzer emotes well Amanda’s frustration, if not resentment, towards her loser boyfriend. Dahl does the most he can with Daniel’s vagueness, specifically the character’s long-winded monologue about fear, faith, and losing his mother. Fong also tries bringing more to Will, which he does when the nature of his and Daniel’s relationship is made clear. Brown and Govier share a particularly emotional scene together, one that sparks excitement in the play again (although too late, perhaps).
Is The Circle a must-see for anyone under the age of 25, as ATP claims? No. Certainly, what the play tries to say about youth is important, but young people will struggle to identify with this shallow representation of their everyday experiences. In fact, young people may feel that the play owes them more than what it offers.
Alberta Theatre Projects’ production of Geoffrey Simon Brown’s The Circle runs October 20 – November 27 at the Martha Cohen Theatre.
For more information about the show, visit: http://atplive.com/whats-on/the-circle/