Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor’s Inside is far from optimistic about modern life.
Directed by MacIvor, Inside stages nine characters whose lives are set to collide minutes before midnight at a high-end nightclub. The urban dwellers are hopelessly lost in a world disrupted by social media – a network of mirages. The authentic is bled dry for fame and followers; presence in the 21st century. The search for belonging in the age of Web 2.0 has led the characters to form difficult, and sometimes harmful, relationships.
MacIvor has adapted the play’s narrative and characters to suit the student actors cast in this production by the University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts,. The collaboration makes for an interesting blend of cynicism towards modern life. At some points, the cynicism seems to come from a Millennial’s viewpoint while at other times from the viewpoint of Generation X.
Take for example, the young, self-loathing activist Todd (Brandon Huszti). Todd sees a lot of problems with his generation, particularly the rise of selfies and artifice. Todd wants his generation, and everyone else, to look up from their phones, and he plans on achieving that with his devices (that won’t hurt anyone, he claims). The thing about Todd’s objective is, the objective seems concerned with returning to some sort of idealised past that Todd has never known, but only studied – like a freshman enlightened after taking one Philosophy course.
Then, there is Sana (Keshia Cheesman) and her sister Kara (Onika Henry). Kara, a lawyer, believes the only way to create meaningful change is to go through the proper channels. Kara believes that working from the inside is the most effective way to make change happen, while Sana stands firmly beside her method of making noise from the edges. Sana’s stance is not surprising given her obsession with social media, particularly its capacity to affect the offline e.g. produce celebrities like Kim Kardashian.
Sana and Kara’s argument boils down to this, what is the effectiveness of social media campaigns like #BlackLivesMatter? The skepticism of Generation X towards the influence of digital campaigns, versus traditional ‘analog’ methods, is well represented in Kara. Kara sees her younger sister as being naive for thinking that action without presence could have any impact.
Another interesting thread running through MacIvor’s play is the friendship between Jeanie (Paige Thomas) and Violet (Bianca Miranda). The emotionally abusive Jeannie exploits Violet’s kindness in order to satisfy her own interests. While Violet recognizes that Jeannie is not very nice towards her, she also recognizes that Jeanie is her only friend. Jeanie and Violet’s friendship is very much an exchange, as opposed to something founded upon mutual respect. It is a very cynical view of friendship that MacIvor presents us.
It is unclear what exactly MacIvor wants the audience to take away from Inside. MacIvor points out a lot of flaws about modern life, specifically emotional disengagement, but does little in the way of providing possible solutions. MacIvor’s concern for this road we are traveling down together is essentially a series of observations and thin arguments that land heavy without much subtlety. The play’s unrelenting cynicism makes it difficult for the audience to identify a common ground with the characters. The finale ultimately proves unsatisfying as it ends on a cheap moment of optimism that begs to be taken seriously.
MacIvor tries bleeding the scenes into each other with club music and dance, but the transitions feel hard nonetheless. The narrative’s episodic nature interrupts the steady momentum he tries to sustain in this ensemble piece. Fortunately, there is not much to move during transitions (set design by Skylar Desjardins) as the actors only have to move tables and chairs.
Anton de Groot’s edgy lighting design with Alex Allan’s pulse pounding sound work transform the Reeve Theatre into a nightclub, the evening’s hub for misery.
Thomas is absolutely vicious as Jeanie, a young woman abusing her disability leave. The audience is nearly on the verge of hissing at Thomas as she cuts into Miranda’s heartbreaking Violet without remorse.
Cheesman plays Sana confidently, as does Henry with Kara. The pair demonstrate that the sisters are, more or less, two sides of the same coin, even if they think otherwise.
Nick Wensrich delivers an eerie performance that burns slowly as Mason, a former soldier disturbed what he saw on deployment. He brings out the character’s manipulative personality that lays deep underneath his guise as a total schmuck. Vanessa Jetté emotes well Audrey’s vulnerability as a reluctant prostitute, hired by Mason.
Dylan Forkheim plays the nightclub’s manager Brian with the sleaziness most, if not all, nightclubs attract, though Brian’s sleaziness is punctuated by sadistic tendencies.
Kris Vanessa Teo’s free-spirited performance as Todd’s girlfriend Mary is a strong and much needed contrast to her boyfriend’s pseudo-intellectualism, played well by Huszti. Miranda’s Violet, pregnant, and Huszti’s Todd, on the way to enact his plan, play a rather touching scene together in the second act where the merits of modern life are debated.
While the ensemble manages well enough with MacIvor’s script, issues and all, there is a strong sense that the ensemble could go further with their performances. The ensemble might benefit from a more intimate space, because here the Reeve Theatre feels somewhat vacant, lacking in presence.
Overall, MacIvor’s Inside leaves much to be desired in terms of a narrative worth investing in. Audiences will feel disengaged by this play steeped in cynicism towards modern life. An underwhelming production that strays far from the SCPA’s usual fare.
The University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts’ production of Daniel MacIvor’s Inside runs Nov 24 – Dec 5 at the Reeve Theatre.
For more information about the show, visit: https://scpa.ucalgary.ca/events/inside