a hard cell

NOW Magazine - - STAGE -

dis­si­deNts by Philippe Du­cros (ARC). At 1251 Bloor Street West. Runs to May 20. Pwyc $9-$44. arc­stage.com. See Con­tin­u­ing, page 29. Rat­ing: NNN

A man in a free-stand­ing cell in a dark room has kept silent for a month de­spite daily in­ter­ro­ga­tions about his rea­sons for com­mit­ting an un­named act of do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism. In his 2012 play Dis­si­dents, Que­be­cois play­wright Philippe Du­cros wants us to con­sider both why the pris­oner com­mit­ted his crime and whether the in­ter­roga­tors’ meth­ods are eth­i­cal. Un­for­tu­nately, the ac­tion, which be­gins with so much prom­ise, be­comes hope­lessly con­fused half­way through.

Early on, the pris­oner (Car­los González-Vío) ad­mits that he acted to do some­thing to shake peo­ple out of their com­pla­cency. He feels that we in the wealthy world spend our lives dis­tract­ing our­selves from all the hu­man ex­ploita­tion and mis­ery in the rest of the world. We worry about our di­ets while oth­ers starve.

The fe­male in­ter­roga­tor (Aviva Ar­mour-Ostroff), whom the pris­oner likes, is will­ing to speak to him with some hint of com­pas­sion. Al­ter­nat­ing with her is the male in­ter­roga­tor (Christopher Stan­ton), who ad­mits he has a men­tal con­di­tion caus­ing a deficit of emo­tion. He mostly lec­tures the pris­oner about the meth­ods of psy­cho­log­i­cal tor­ture they are us­ing.

Th­ese meth­ods, we learn, were for­mu­lated by Dr. Ewen Cameron of McGill Uni­ver­sity who from 1957-64 ex­per­i­mented on pa­tients (with­out their con­sent) to test his the­o­ries of how to com­pletely de­stroy a sub­ject’s per­son­al­ity and abil­ity to rebel.

Such ma­te­rial could be the stuff of ex­cit­ing drama, but Du­cros chooses to fo­cus on the game-play­ing be­tween the in­ter­roga­tors and the pris­oner to the point where we can’t tell when they are or aren’t ly­ing to each other. When we give up try­ing to fig­ure it out, our in­ter­est in the show evap­o­rates.

As the pris­oner, González-Vío gives one of his most in­tense per­for­mances ever. Ar­mour-Ostroff’s in­ter­roga­tor shows some hu­man­ity be­neath her of­fi­cial fa­cade, whereas Stan­ton’s is com­pletely ego­cen­tric. The pro­duc­tion’s set­ting in the base­ment of an aban­doned fur­ni­ture store is ef­fec­tively eerie and un­set­tling. So is hav­ing to lis­ten to the di­a­logue over head­phones as we watch.

As with phys­i­cal tor­ture we won­der: if psy­cho­log­i­cal tor­ture can force a pris­oner to agree to any­thing, how can the in­for­ma­tion gained pos­si­bly be use­ful? And, in this case, we ask in vain why the tor­ture per­sists so long after the pris­oner has told his in­ter­roga­tors the rea­sons for his ac­tions.

Christopher hoiLe

THE­ATRE RE­VIEW Aviva Ar­mour-Ostroff in­ter­ro­gates Car­los González-Vío in un­even Dis­si­dents.

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