The North Plan mixes paranoia and farce

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      By Jason Wells. Directed by Chelsea Haberlin. An Upintheair Theatre production. At a location near 211 East Georgia Street on Saturday, November 21. Continues until November 29

      The North Plan is a strange mix of paranoia and farce—and a strange blend of the sinister real world and its shallow television counterpart.

      It’s the near future, and the U.S. is under martial law. Carlton Berg, a Washington bureaucrat, finds himself in a holding cell in tiny Lotus, Missouri; he’s on the run, trying to protect millions of innocent civilians who have somehow made it onto a government database of enemies of the state. His only companion—and his only hope for justice—is the prisoner in the neighbouring cell, a dim-witted, self-involved chatterbox named Tanya, who seems far from up to the task of saving the free world.

      American playwright Jason Wells raises very serious issues in his script: the scenario is based on an actual military contingency plan drafted in the 1980s by Oliver North (of Iran-Contra fame) and the real-life database is said to contain personal information—collected by digital surveillance—on over eight million Americans, whose “threat to national security” may amount to no more than having attended a protest or written a poem. Sound familiar, Canadians? But Wells wraps this genuinely frightening content in the familiar trappings of the TV sitcom, which escalates after intermission to all-out farce. The result is entertaining, but not entirely satisfying.

      Under Chelsea Haberlin’s direction, the performances are uniformly strong. Genevieve Fleming is deliciously committed to the volume and repetition that Tanya deploys to compensate for her lack of perceptiveness. Daniel Martin’s Berg is tortured equally by his dangerous knowledge and by the increasingly slim chance he’ll be able to do anything with it. Both Paul Herbert, the suspicious small-town sheriff, and Catherine Lough Haggquist, as a desk officer who can’t make up her mind whose side she’s on, are grounded counterpoints to the desperation of their prisoners. Allen Morrison and David Mott round out the cast in the second act as a pair of federal agents with some issues to work out.

      The seating in this site-specific venue keeps audiences close to the action, especially in the second act, which veers into slapstick as police procedural meets bedroom farce (there are lots of slamming doors).

      But I left the show wondering what Wells wants us to take away. Is this a call for radical action, or are we meant to simply amuse ourselves to death?