Conversation at Night With a Despised Character
By Friedrich Díƒ ¼rrenmatt. Directed by Billy Marchenski. A Screaming Flea production.
Phone 604-619-9886 for location. Until May 15
Thank God I had my panic pills in my purse for reassurance; Screaming Flea's staging of Conversation at Night With a Despised Character is a claustrophobic nightmare. But ultimately, that's a good thing.
You've got to telephone the number listed above, and you'll get a call back to tell out where to meet a fake German guy on the street in downtown Vancouver sometime before 9 p.m. He ushers you through a loading door, which closes ominously behind you, then a woman escorts groups of audience members into a pitch-black freight elevator that empties into an impenetrably dark series of corridors. She warns you that you won't be able to exit until after the show and that, even then, you'll need her help. Then she leaves you sitting in a stuffy windowless room and you wait, without a speck of light. Finally, in the darkness, the performance begins. And, finally, one of the characters lights an oil lamp.
An executioner who is virtually owned by the state has come to murder a liberal writer. At one point, the writer decides to call out to the street to expose the crime. The assassin doesn't even attempt to stop him because he knows that no one will come to help: "Today we die alone; the fear is too great." Playwright Friedrich Díƒ ¼rrenmatt was a German speaker who lived in Switzerland through most of the last century, and the dark vision of society he presents in this play seems to make reference to both Adolf Hitler's Germany and Stalinist Russia. But what's really scary is that Díƒ ¼rrenmatt's analysis applies perfectly to an increasing number of sinister and covert government actions that have been taking place since 9/11, not just in George W. Bush's USA but also internationally. Where was the Canadian government when Maher Arar was taken into custody and sent to Syria to be tortured by lackey thugs? Why is the international community not protesting America's holding of prisoners, including children--most of whom have not been charged--at Guantíƒ ¡namo Bay? Apparently, we are all willing to let others die alone because our fear is too great.
So, paradoxically, the claustrophobic darkness of this production illuminates the text. And once again, Screaming Flea proves that it is one of the most innovative, intelligent companies in town.