I'm just back from The Circle by Geoffrey Brown at Tarragon. This was preview week, so it is possible they will get even more amped up throughout the run, but this was pretty intense. It's somewhat interesting that while I sometimes don't mind reading about delinquents (juvenile or otherwise) -- and characters from Madison Smartt Bell's first few novels definitely come to mind -- I am a lot less willing to see them up close and personal as with theatre. I just remember in high school actively avoiding the kinds of people that populate this play, so it wasn't all that fun getting dragged into their lives now. And beyond just being delinquents, these characters are truly trouble magnets. I'd say there were echoes of Bogosian's subUrbia, but this was even a bit darker.
The set was pretty cool -- all set in a garage in suburban Calgary. I still had a bit of trouble believing that the parent who let her daughter's boyfriend live in the garage (mostly because he paid rent) wouldn't draw the line at his bong collection. (One big blue bong was named Trudeau!) Rock and grunge music played in the background for much of the show, since the play was about a get-together that became a sort of party.
Overall this wasn't quite my cup of tea but I liked three things about the play. First, I knew something bad would happen, but what it was truly caught me off guard, though in retrospect it was adequately foreshadowed. So props... Second, I liked how the rest of the play explained the opening scene, but Brown didn't feel compelled to repeat the opening scene, as if to say "remember this?" The audience had to make the connection on their own. If this was a movie or especially a TV movie, the edit would almost certainly have repeated the opening scene, at best from a different angle. Third, though this is a bit of inside baseball, there is an inconvenient in-coming cell phone call that impacts the plot. One of the more amusing moments in David Henry Hwang's Chinglish is when a cell phone goes off in the main character's pants. Here the sound effect is similar, though the outcome is quite different. I'd be very surprised if Brown had seen Chinglish, since it hasn't even been produced in Canada as far as I know, and its Broadway run was quite short. It's more of the spirit of the times. Maybe the single strangest thing about this production is that the Millennial characters (actually shading into Gen Z) aren't always texting other people on their phones (and one of the characters is studiously ignoring calls coming on his phone), but that may simply be yet another marker of how much they are all outsiders.
In some ways, I was pretty sure I wouldn't be completely sold on this production, since this is focused on such a narrow slice of today's youth. Even in the piece I wrote about teens hanging out outside the 7-11 (and I really ought to dust that off and submit to Toronto Cold Reads) they weren't quite such no-hopers. But I was interested in seeing the dramatic possibilities of a bunch of kids in one room (here the garage). I think I will push on and write about a bunch of academically talented kids with a very different set of problems all gathered in one kid's basement. But I'll have to make sure that there really is enough dramatic interest in this set-up. It might just be too flat, which is definitely an issue with a number of my plays. I don't like having completely improbable things happen, and I definitely don't like terrible things happening to my characters, which can be seen as too limiting, at least to some theatre-goers. Anyway, food for thought...