Once again Talisman Theatre has mounted an English production of a French play, this time Coma Unplugged. This time it’s a black comedy and therein lays the problem: The central idea that we are entering the mind of a man who has suffered a cerebral trauma and is in a coma gives playwright Pierre Michel Tremblay an enormous amount of leeway in introducing and exploring material – perhaps too much leeway. He succeeds some of the time and, sadly, fails at others.
Tremblay is very witty and some of his one-liners are worth repeating, but the repetition of the lines, over and over for humorous effect, is done so often as to become irritating. Moreover, possibly due to cultural differences and/or a failure in translation, a great deal of the gender-based, testosterone driven scenes just weren’t delivering the laughs.
The acting was flawless. Eloi Archambaudoin was riveting as Daniel. From his first song to the final moments of the piece, he held one’s attention. Archambaudoin was onstage for the entirety of the play and did not lose energy or focus throughout. Lines that were rather trivial he made poignant, and he delivered with conviction.
Glenda Braganza was spectacular as Marjorie and her performance made the play come alive. She did have some tedious lines as well, but delivered them with a flair and professionalism that was breathtaking.
Susan Glover gets comedy, and of all the characters hers was actually funny. As Daniel’s mother on meds she was manic to within an inch of credibility and understood with great instinct the need for “set up and delivery.” Chimwemwe Miller had the thankless part of Ishouad, the Twarek warrior, but his physical presence was enormously charming and worth watching, even when he was delivering lines like “A woman is the sash around a man’s waist.”
Donovan Reiter as Roger had the hardest role and the least likeable. He did what he could and played his macho gazpacho part with great energy.
The set was terrific and did things that truly conveyed the strange passages in the mind of the unconscious. Furthermore, the lighting and sound were great and the costumes worked very well.
Years ago, Bob Fosse gave us All That Jazz and created an all-time impossibly high bar with the tale of a man dying of heart failure. It was also about the inside of a man’s mind when the body is giving up, but it was fantastic. Coma Unplugged touched upon dozens of important subjects: materialism, the nature of greed, and the meaning of a writing life when others are sacrificing theirs to save the lives of strangers in distant lands. But the concepts were rattled off so fast they were never given the weight that they merit, and the humour was often physical and puerile.
Coma Unplugged was a great success in French but it lost a lot in the translation. That said, Talisman should be congratulated for their efforts, especially on the fantastic cast.
Coma Unplugged, written by Pierre Michel Tremblay, translated by Micheline Chevrier and directed by Zach Fraser, at the Conservatoire d’art dramatique et de musique (4750 Henri-Julien), until Oct. 29
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