Theatre review: Coercion lacks clarity

The thing about conspiracy theorists is that you either buy into what they are peddling or dismiss them as wackos.  In the Hardline Productions original new play Coercion, I felt neither.

Sean Harris Oliver in the Hardline Productions presentation of CoercionA re-working of Cativo, written by members of the company last year, Coercion tells the story of Brazilian engineer Rodrigo who kidnaps Jason, a former Afghan soldier and current gun-for-hire.  Seems both had worked for SunCor, one of the companies mining Canada’s oil sands for its black gold.  Having discovered that the melting of the permafrost while extracting oil will release great quantities of methane gas adding to global warming, Rodrigo is fired and forced to work as a cab driver when his work visa is taken from him.  Plotting either his revenge or a way to stop SunCor from carrying out their plan (we’re never quite sure which), he eventually enlists the help of his captive.

This is where things get a little confused, as the relationship between Rodrigo and Jason never fully comes into focus.  Perhaps intentionally clouded by the drugs they take or from their shared paranoia of SunCor, the lack of clarity prevented a real connection to these characters and their decision to ultimately come together.

In addition to the central kidnap story where Rodrigo attempts to convince Jason as to the true nature of SunCor’s operations, there are also a number of flashbacks of Jason as a soldier in Afghanistan.  These flashbacks are designed to help explain how Jason’s relationship developed with SunCor, but they too felt a bit muddled.

Both Gui Fontanezzi (Rodrigo) and Sean Harris Oliver (Jason) are compelling, but director Genevieve Fleming makes some interesting choices.  For example, Fontanezzi’s first realization that the man in his cab is Jason is genuine it could easily be missed as Fleming places the two on opposite sides of the stage.

Large chunks of the 60 minute piece are taken up by movement choreographed by Raes Calvert and had me thinking back to the company’s production of Never Swim Alone last year.  While executed with precision and athleticism, it wasn’t always helpful to the somewhat confusing narrative.

While perhaps timely in using an oil company as the backdrop for its conspiracy, the lack of clarity neither makes us believers nor allows us to dismiss them as crazy.

2 1/5 of 5 Stars Coercion

By Raes Calvert, Genevieve Fleming, Gui Fontanezzi and Sean Harris Oliver.  Directed by Genevieve Fleming.  A Hardline Productions presentation as part of the Neanderthal Arts Festival.  On stage at The Cultch Culture Lab through Sunday, July 29, 2012.  Visit http://hardlineproductions.ca for information.

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