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Review: Recovery at NAC in Ottawa

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The world premiere of Recovery is playing in the Studio at the National Arts Centre. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at the opening night and has our review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

Greg MacArthur's new play "recovery" is powerful, quirky and upsetting.  Take echoes of 1984, mix with modern society's penchant for self-medication, add a dash of Jim Jones and there you have it.  "recovery" explores the ways in which individuals relinquish their autonomy.  To quote the playwright from his first notes on the play, "recovery . . . the commodification of fear; the oppression of the individual; the medicalizing of life so that we don't have to look at the consequences of our lives."

I don't mean to imply that all is doom and gloom.  The play contains compelling characters and a great deal of off-beat humor. "recovery" begins with a monologue by Ben, well played by Ian Leung, that explains his arrival in this re-hab center in Antarctica.  Governments have responded to a world-wide epidemic of addiction to a mysterious new substance by establishing isolated re-hab centers.  As we meet the other characters we come to realize that, to put it mildly, things are askew.

Another rehabee, (is that a word?), is Leroy, a young Dutchman, played with both strength and sensitivity by Jeff Lawson.  The final inmate is Ash, an older gay man wonderfully played by John Koensgen.  Mr. Koensgen is one of those rare actors whose impeccable comic timing is matched by his dramatic depth.  He is particularly effective in his story about the boy and his final scene.

Alex Sideris plays Mya, a young female employee torn between her feelings for Leroy and her desire for professional advancement.  Miss Sideris makes Mya's internal struggle poignant and believable.  Paul Wernick is fine as Alexander, a boy lost out on the ice who haunts the proceedings.

Kate Hurman rounds out the cast as Clare, the administrator, and gives a terrific performance as a sort of smarmy Nurse Ratchett.  Her reassuring platitude, "Loss is necessary," boomerangs during her powerful scene of emotional collapse.

Director David Oiye has staged "recovery" primarily in a non-realistic fashion. The characters speak directly to the audience in their monologues.  Even their scenes together are largely played out.  As a result, when a scene between the actors is played realistically it becomes startling and stronger by contrast.

Kim Nielson's set and David Fraser's lighting beautifully support the director's interpretation.  The set consists of a back wall of stretched scrim with three doorways opening onto a thrust stage with three benches.  There's a backdrop upstage of the scrim and some of the action takes place in this corridor.  Squares and rectangles of light on the floor seem to hold the actors in place and add to the feeling of confinement.  There are also some terrific lighting effects on both the scrim and the backdrop.  Composer and sound designer Robert Perrault has produced some good effects and music.  I particularly liked the broken wooden penguin and the children's orchestra, a peculiar mix of recorders, trombones and erratic percussion.

Speaking of penguins, what can one make of a play that early on poses the question, "What do penguins do with their dead?"  I can only say that "recovery" does what a good play should do.  It not only makes you feel, it makes you think.  Like Ash's final frosted cupcake, it stays with you.

On a scale of one to five the NAC production of "recovery" gets four and seven-eights Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.

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