Live From the End of the World is the latest production by local playwright James F.W. Thompson, and was the kick-off event for the Cape Breton Stage Company’s Summer Night Theatre Festival.
Starring Wesley Colford, Erin Gillis, Jana Gillis, and Thompson, the play is a look at how various individuals react to the Devil’s decision to put an end to everything. As we watch everything become unhinged, one young woman is “chosen” to try and stop the self-indulgent devil’s ambitious and expensive undertaking.
I avoid stories with plots that are centered on an end of the world trope. More often than not, it’s a contrived way of reaffirming faith in humanity, or offers a sombre evaluation of why we don’t deserve to inhabit this planet. The biggest strength of Live at the End of the World is that it avoids falling into the trap of telling an overwrought moral message, and doesn’t depend on exaggerated heroism to make the characters fun to watch.
While the overarching plot provided a suitable anchor for the play, it was the individual vignettes of hilarious social breakdown that really make the whole thing worthwhile. My favourite of these scenes was the tinfoil hat-wearing street corner prophet, portrayed by Jana Gillis with appropriate unhinged alarm. With Thompson and Erin Gillis’ dry tag-teaming of the doom and hellfire preaching Jana, it’s one of the best darkly comedic scenes.
The play may have benefitted from having a fifth actor take on one or two of the smaller bit parts. However, each cast member navigated themselves effectively between their roles to avoid audience confusion.Interestingly, the no-frills staging, basic lighting and limited number of actors on stage was interesting in an end of world story. Without the usual noise and fuss and upturned scenery of a mass panic, the audience is led to focus on the more subtle, psychological fallout. It creates an appropriate sense of isolation.
Thompson’ humour is unrelenting, and his pacing requires some stamina from the viewer. It works best for people who enjoy a touch of schadenfreude – he’s not necessarily sadistic but he likes toying with some of the stupid, neurotic and annoying aspects of humanity, and he likes making his strategically defective characters suffer (or be irritated) at the hands of other equally obnoxious characters.
Without spoiling the ending, it’s neither a feel-good conclusion nor a downer. Whether his characters succeed or fail at what they’re trying to do isn’t the point of the plot. Somehow at the end, everyone’s okay with the circumstances. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
If you missed this play, it will be performed each Thursday, 8pm at St. Patrick’s museum at 87 Esplanade, Sydney until August 28. The weekly plays go on hiatus for the Stage Company’s Outdoor Theatre Festival from August 4 to 7. For more information, visit www.capestage.ca