Review: Coma Unplugged by Pierre-Michel Tremblay

In the production notes, Director Micheline Chevrier says she “instantly fell in love with Pierre-Michel’s words, humour and heart” when she saw it performed in French; and that with this performance, she can finally share her love with English-speaking audiences. Somehow, whatever it was that this talented Canadian director saw in that script was lost, and I think it was actually lost in translation. I have not seen the original French production, nor would it do much good for me to see it, because my French is not that good; but there were places in this English language production where the script took off on a word-play riff that was probably hilarious in French, but is merely witty or even puzzling or pointless in English. Many times there were loud giggles in the audience, the kind that you hear in community theatre, when the show is not going well, and sympathetic audience members want to give the struggling actors some encouragement. Sorry, but that’s what happened.

But the script was not the only problem. The set was disappointingly rough-hewn. Certainly, miscellaneous piles of mainly cardboard boxes can represent a disorganized bachelor’s apartment, and certainly, that visual cacophony can be stretched to represent the troubled mind of a coma victim, but not uniformly spray-painted unrelenting white, augmented visually by a bland palette of washed out jeans and other pallid casual-dress colours. This visual effect was not just ugly and unimaginative, it was repugnant and pointless. This could have been so much more. The point-of-view/perspective shift that occurred in the hospital scene, when the lights come up to let us see that we are looking not horizontally at, but vertically down from above on the hospital room of the coma patient was clever, even a trompe d’oeuille, but what was the point? So much effort with so little reason.

The actors gave the script their full attention, and squeezed everything out of it that they could; but the main character, Daniel, played with casual grace by Bruce Hunter, is not a character we can care about. Although it does not become clear until late in the play, he is in a coma, and we are inside his head; for that reason, his life is surreal, probably pointless, and for that reason, we have no reason to become engaged in it. The mother, well-played by Mary Ellis, was written as a slightly embarrassing, pleasant in-your-face woman, but because we did not really care about her son, the thrust of the character just slides away. If I cared about any character in this play, it was not the over-the top Toureg, nor the silly childhood friend, but the ex-wife, vividly portrayed by Annie Lefebvre, who gave us a wife who may care about Daniel, but may not. I vote for not.

Overall, this eighty-two minute one-act play (again!) was more a series of brief, loosely connected sketches than a play.

Coma Unplugged

By Pierre-Michel Tremblay

Translated and Directed by Micheline Chevrier
Assistant Directed by William Somers
Set and Costumes Designed by Yannik Larivee
Lighting Designed by Jock Munro
Original Music and Sound Designed by John Millard
Stage Managed by Renate Hanson
Apprentice Stage Managed by Chantal Hayman


Mary Ellis
Kevin Hanchard
Bruce Hunter
Annie Lefebvre
Jeff Meadows

Nov. 25 to Dec. 14, 2008 at Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre, Ottawa Ontario Canada

Performance Reviewed: December 11, 2008, 8pm

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About riverwriter

Poet, playwright, duplicate bridge player, website designer, cottager, husband, father, grandfather, former athlete, carpenter, computer helper for my friends, theatre designer, backstage polymath, retired teacher of highschool English, drama, art, a baritone singer in a barbershop quartet, who knows what else? wordcurrents is on Facebook: Doug also has a Facebook page, "Incognitio", related to his novels.
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