Pilot? Hits Turbulence

Ian Huffam

     Three Americans are sitting in a Tokyo airport waiting for their flight home, unaware that they are the first contestants on a new Japanese game show. An interesting idea? It is and it isn’t. Riding on the wave of stereotypically weird Japanese cultural imports over the last 20 years or so, the idea invites possibilities for surreal humour and satire, but there’s the risk that comes from treading the thin line between cultural parody and racism.

Pilot? has mixed success in their execution of what is admittedly an intriguing concept. The whole production is written and performed by the members of Gioco Theatre, all of whom are either current or recently graduated students of the University of Ottawa’s Theatre program. As such, certain expectations about the quality of acting and writing might be assumed, and they are absolutely confirmed.

There is certainly no shortage of humour, which despite its silliness does manage to actually be pretty funny. The characters, however – a 13 year-old genius, a redneck lottery winner, a Charlie Brown type who never succeeds, and the game show presenter who tries and fails to fit in with the rest of them – are one-dimensional and annoying. It’s hard to tell whether the flaw is in the acting or the writing, since as a collective creation the actors likely wrote large parts of their own characters. Given the surrealistic nature of their situation, it might have been more fitting for these characters to be presented in a realistic tone to serve as a contrast to their unusual predicament. As it is, each actor fails to rein anything in, which kills any suspense for what they might do next.

There are two other characters, however, who fit in completely with the show. Sam Dietrich fitfully plays an androgynous assistant presenter who never spends more time on stage than he needs to. Pulling double duty, stage manager Elizbeth McIelwain provides the voice of the never-seen game show host with what can only be described as the most stereotypical Japanese accent ever, the kind that will make you laugh even though you’ll feel guilty about it later.

Again, there’s that tricky racism question. Could this show be considered culturally insensitive? Probably. Is it politically correct? Absolutely not. It’s a good sign however that these people are making their mark on the scene, because in a few years they could really be turning out some excellent stuff.

 

A Gioco Theatre Production

Performed by Kyle Cunningham, Jaclyn Martinez, Mike Connors, Ashley Rissler, Sam Dietrich, Elizabeth McIelwain

Playing at Arts Court Library