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Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Review: Possible Worlds is Passable

Kristin Pellerin as Joyce and Cyrus Lane as George. Photo by David Hou

PossibleWorlds, by John Mighton
Directed by Mitchell Cushman
Designed by Anahita Dehbonehie (set), Dana Osborne (costumes), Kimberly Purtell (lights), Nick Bottomly (projections), Christopher Stanton (sound), John Stead (fights)

Possible Worlds is a play by a mathematician about a lot of intellectual concepts – imagination, consciousness, neuroscience and quantum mechanics, just to maim a few.  Director Mitchell Cushman’s staging of these concepts is much cleverer than his source material – he is determined that his audience will follow Mighton’s disjointed story by making every action painstakingly deliberate, leaving no room subtlety. He and his cast make the play watchable, but leave the audience without that sense of discovery the Festival was keen to promote this season.

The story boils down to this (spoilers): George is murdered by a scientist who keeps his brain alive in a jar, trying to tap his consciousness. His brain imagines several different lifetimes with variations of the same woman as two police officers try to solve his murder.

Michael Spencer-Davis as Berkley.  Photo by David Hou
The set looks simpler than it is – literally under water - and hides all manner of nooks for extra props which appear as if my magic. Magic illusions are employed by the cast; disappearing lights, materializing golf balls, gravity-defying liquid. Liquid falls from cubes suspended in the air, glowing blue and red, made of scrim. Scrims are backlit to represent the morgue, the full moon, an alien landscape, a cherished loved one.  For a play ostensibly about imagination, Mr. Cushman’s production leaves nothing to the imagination at all.

It is very, very clever, and very necessary for this play. And it has a very good cast. Cyrus Lane – last seen as Lucentio in Taming of the Shrew – plays the many lives of George with an energy that turns from exhilarated to anguish as (presumably) the caged brain begins to die and his “lives” become more and more fragmented.  Krystin Pellerin – last seen in television’s The Republic of Doyle - has a very natural grace on stage, even while slogging through a dense play and, for the most part, drenched. One can sincerely hope she will be returning to Stratford’s stages in coming years.
Gordon S. Miller as Williams. Photo by David Hou

Sarah Orenstein has a trifecta of parts, all played to perfection; as the UFO-obsessed caretaker she draws a picture of a paranoid schizophrenic; she plays the smart businesswoman as a class act with possible cougarish tendencies, and as the neurologist (and murderer) Penfield, well, let’s just say that I’d bet on Ms. Orenstein’s Penfield if she went toe-to-toe with this season’s other mad scientist - Fräulein Doktor von Zahnd in the Physicists.

Sarah Orenstein as Penfield. Photo by David Hou
As the baffled and wary policemen Berkley and Williams, Michael Spencer Davis and Gordon S. Miller are good foils for one another. Mr. Davis gives Berkely an acerbic edge that floats over the head of the loyal but naïve Williams as he is played by Mr. Miller; this gives way to mild surprise when it is Williams who ultimately, and somewhat prosaically, solves the murder.

So. Good cast, clever direction and some heady (pun intended) notions. But Possible Worlds also contains regular dramatic concepts too – humour, mystery, romance… It may be better for audiences to dwell on these tenets of storytelling and not worry too very much about the rest.

Possible Worlds continues in repertory at the Studio Theatre until September 19.

Cyrus Lane as George.  Photo by David Hou

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