Palace of the End
May 21 to June 6, 2009
Performing Arts Lodge Theatre
Directed by David Bloom, Katrina Dunn and Mindy Parfitt
Starring Alexa Devine, Russell Roberts and Laara Sadiq
Set by Yvan Morissette
Costumes by Farnaz Khaki-Sadigh
Lighting by John Webber
Sound by Brian Linds
Adult $26 Senior $20 Student $16 including all service charges
Call 604 684 2787 or visit www.ticketstonight.ca
Tuesday – Saturday 8pm;
I’m not normally much of a player. Play-goer. Whatever.
This has something to do with chronic impecuniety and something to do with having been traumatized by some truly dreadful live performances, including my own, through which I have suffered in the past. Yes, I was traumatized by a stand up comedian as a toddler, and have yet to fully recover.
Nonetheless, when my friend Rebecca Coleman offered me a ticket to Palace of the End at the PAL theatre, I said yes. This is partly because I feel guilty about not having blogged it the last time she gave me a comp ticket so a play (Death of a Clown, also at the PAL and quite good) and partly because at this point of social media saturation, it would be a positive relief to sit somewhere in the dark with the phone off and NO-ONE allowed to attempt to interact with me in any way, shape, form, spindled, or mutilated.
Based around the lives of three distinct characters—a young soldier imprisoned for her misconduct at a prison camp in Iraq, a microbiologist-cum-weapons inspector who exposes the false justifications for war and a mother/political opponent of Saddam Hussein—Palace of the End details the reality of the war in Iraq from three unique perspectives.
Where was I? Oh yes, on my way to sit in the dark with a bunch of strangers, watching the Iraq War play out in three monologues.
Now, you should know that this play is divided into three separate monologues, and leading with the least sympathetic character (perhaps of all time) is a tough way to start. That said, the point of a play is to engage, move and possibly change people, and this section just didn’t really do any of those. We didn’t like her when it started; we didn’t like her when it ended. We didn’t really learn anything, either. Maybe it had something to do with the Alexa Devine’s commitment to being as loud and obnoxious and A!Mer!I!Can! as humanly possible, which is always such a hit with Canadians. Maybe it was in the script. But I think the problem was in the entire premise; you can’t do an examination of the Iraq War without talking about Lynndie England, but when your protagonist is a malevolent, IQ-deficient DQ multiple firee and convicted torturer, there’s not much you can do to engage the audience except take her behind the shed and give her the Old Yeller treatment.
After Lynndie had Googled herself repeatedly, mooned about her “boyfriend,” and wallowed in self-pity and played the St. Sebastian card, the scene changed abruptly to a wooded hillside in England, and we were (thankfully) on to the second character.
David Kelly, the whistleblowing British scientist who may have been a suicide or may have been killed by government interests.
Russell Roberts did a simply amazing job of bringing the mysteriously-expired scientist to life again as a sympathetic, flawed character a very long way from being a victim. While I can go on at length about things I dislike, unfortunately words fail me when it comes to things I actually do like, so this is going to be a short paragraph. Let’s just say the end of Kelly’s monologue, I would have discovered and administered the antidote to the poison, and then run off to Tofino with him. Sadly, that’s a privilege not even befriending the publicist could get me, and I had to leave sadly alone.
Next up was Laara Sadiq, as an upper-class Iraqi woman who opposed Saddam Hussein. In detailing her social, political and family life under Saddam Hussein, she educated and moved the audience in an intimate and powerful way. Although at times her gestures seemed mannered, the performance as a whole was a tremendous success. The play as a whole moved through monologues from an essentially malevolent character through a nuanced, compromised and terribly human one, to a true martyr, and I honestly spent the last two-thirds essentially in tears.
A play as intimate as this is well-served by a small venue, and the PAL theatre was a perfect space for it. We’re used to actors Pro! Ject! Ing! and that would have suited neither the material nor the theatre in this case; small can be beautiful, when it brings you this close to the actors and they to the audience. The writing was, as a whole, moving and elegantly structured, with the reservations mentioned about the first section. The acting was truly impressive, and Vancouver should be very proud to have talent like this at its disposal.
In summary, Palace of the End is a powerful, emotional and moral experience, examining one of the defining conflicts of the emergent 21st Century. Its sheer quality from start to finish changed my concept of local theatre, and I highly recommend it.