Culture & Conversation

Emotional Centre Does Not Hold

It is never a good sign when they hold curtain on opening night. There is usually a great reason, but the audience gets restless and hostile and, in the case of Scientific Americans, very sleepy. I thought that the actors did remarkably well and the play may have had really important things to say. But it was very dated and not just because it takes place in the eighties. The main issues seem less relevant today.

The romantic story centres on the relationship and conflict between Jim, a math genius well played by Trent Pardy, and his fiancé Carol, performed by Julia Course. When Jim goes to work for the Defence Department in New Mexico, Carol, a computer designer, becomes disillusioned with his willingness to do the math that might cause war.

Graham Cuthbertson plays a Freudian psychologist whose droll comments provide a kind of chorus to the action. Michael Blake is convincing as a military man who seems to have to whip the poor physicists into a lather to invent better weapons faster. Daniel Brochu is delightful as the nebush scientist, and Susan Bain is really very good as Jim’s mother, and the whiny woman scientist.

The play had no centre. Aside from a very feeble attempt at farce during a messy dinner party centred on stealth missile shaped cookies, there was no conflict or great passion. When Jim throws some wine at Carol, she accuses him of being violent. If that was violent, these are some well protected scientists. There was a moment when there was almost a bit of passion between the two young leads, but no, they were too polite for any actual physical displays of affection and they were on the incredibly long cold floor of the Segal stage. The huge distance from stage right to stage left made almost all the transitions really long and often dull if not downright awkward in underwear. This is a stage made for Kabuki.

The set was something out of Star Trek and so was the video art, although I particularly liked the furniture which came on and off by itself. However, the sterility of the set only contributed to the feeling that the play itself was lacking in feeling. The lighting was so dim that my guest and I were counting the number of audience members who had snoozed off.

One wants to like a work by John Mighton, the winner of so many awards. One is very loyal to Andrew Shaver, the wunderkind of the Montreal theatre community and author of so many fabulous nights at the theatre. I am not very mathematical and therefore often at a loss to find scientific work even vaguely interesting, but I tried and this play just did not hold my interest. I remember seeing the play In The Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer decades ago. For some reason, while dealing with a real live scientist who was actually responsible for the bombs dropped on Japan, it haunts me many decades later.

Scientific Americans plays at the Segal Centre through February 26th. 5170 ch. de la Côte Ste Catherine. 514 739 7944.

Photo: Andrée Lanthier

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