The play starts with a group of actors clumped together, acknowledging the land and thanking sponsors. The most intriguing pre-show speech I’ve ever seen. Then, they ask the audience to stand up and join them in singing Oh Canada. The audience tentatively complies. That’s only the beginning of the uncommon choices this play makes. One thing is for sure, though. Alley Theatre knows what a play means: it means a time for playing.
Six actors tell two stories: one of a Somalian pirate on trial in Germany and the other of 2 German soldiers on a mission in Afghanistan. Sounds heavy? Maybe it should be, but, true to its title, this play revels in the ridiculousness of the darkness around us.
The Ridiculous Darkness is theatrical. The actors don’t shy away from the audience; they embrace the theatricality of the play wholeheartedly. An ensemble piece, the six actors switch in and out of the main characters seamlessly – but amazingly it was never confusing. The core group of actors holds the story together with an eloquent passion.
Through absurdity, they explore timely, pointed material in a heartbreakingly silly way. At one point, a soldier comes across a parrot (played by a real bird!) who talks about the destruction he has seen. Bombs are exploding, and people are dying. But all the soldier comments on is how amazing it is that the parrot can speak.
The six actors are joined throughout the story by Vancouver locals, bringing the story from Germany and Afghanistan right to our doorsteps. They make the themes and questions accessible to any audience member, asking us to consider the horrible things happening in the world. How can we understand what we have never experienced? How can we understand cultures so different from our own?
With so much going on, you’d expect this play to be confusing, and with such heavy subject matter, you’d expect it to be horribly dark. However, The Ridiculous Darkness is anything but what you’d expect.
The Ridiculous Darkness is… ridiculous. It’s insane. It uses nearly every theatrical technique, and just when you think you’ve seen it all, there’s more. A children’s choir, a puppet show, slam poetry, taiko drummers, singing, dancing, marching bands, tennis, a runway show, and that’s only the beginning.
This is the kind of theatrical creativity that the Vancouver theatre scene needs. I commend them for taking risks and committing to every moment – it paid off. Open your mind, question the world around you, and go play with Alley Theatre.
The Ridiculous Darkness plays at the Orpheum Annex until November 19th. Tickets and more information can be found here.