By Marcus Youssef, Guillermo Verdecchia, and Camyar Chai. Directed by Guillermo Verdecchia. A NeWorld and Cahoots Theatre Projects coproduction.
At the Vancouver East Cultural Centre on February 10. No remaining performances
In The Adventures of Ali and Ali and the Axes of Evil, Ali and Ali don't actually have any adventures, which is a bit of a problem. This show contains refreshingly original passages, but its central premise has nothing to do with its plot and that plot is so weak that it's almost indiscernible.
In the script, two guys named Ali take over a Canadian theatre, having promised that they will perform "an uplifting ethnic family drama with songs". Instead, the two clowns parody postí‚ 9/11 cultural representation and misinformation. Because writers Marcus Youssef, Guillermo Verdecchia, and Camyar Chai are really, really smart, they go much further than simply sending up Arab-bashing. They also ridicule liberalism. In my favourite bit, the Alis, who are played by Chai and Youssef, attempt to live up to their theatrical contract by presenting "Grasshopper White Eyes Dreams of Home". Nobody in the cast is Chinese; the dad in the "Grasshopper" mini-play (Tom Butler) speaks with a chop-suey accent; and his son moans about how the other kids make fun of his chicken-claw snack pack before he reaches a forced catharsis and sobs, "I am Canadian!" The gratingly sincere conventions of politically correct drama are laid bare and, through transgression, the right to uncontrolled speech is asserted. This goes beyond clever; it's hilarious.
The three-headed playwriting team also builds plenty of almost-credible information into the text. The Alis' home state of Agraba, for instance, sounds pretty real until you realize that it's an amalgam of many countries in which foreign interests have fatally distorted the political structures. It's a reminder not to trust what we hear in this era of complicit media, spin, and outright lies.
So what's not to like? Well, Ali and Ali runs an hour and 40 minutes without a break, and because most of its concepts are poorly theatricalized it gets boring. The premise that the Alis aren't honouring their contract has very little to do with the ultra-light story, in which they search for "axes of evil". Because that search barely registers, there's insufficient narrative to pull us through the evening. The authors offer a freely associative structure as an alternative, but that form can only work if every passage creates its own intense interest--which doesn't happen. Here's hoping Ali and Ali rewrite their material, or at least cut half an hour before taking it on the road.