Review: Blackout a good first step

Wes Babcock

Blackout is the story of young James (Austin Beaty) who, waking up in a prison cell, begins to remember who he is and what he’s done after a particularly violent blackout.

The best part of this production is the atmosphere created by Alex Mayer’s looming presence at the venue door as the police officer. This decision works well to create a tense atmosphere in the space, and is further enhanced when Mayer searches the crowd and drags Beaty from their midst to start the show.

Unfortunately, while this move sets up the play perfectly, it also built my expectations to a point that was never again achieved.

There are some good moments in the production, particularly in interactions between young James and his grandfather (Denis Chartrand in the performance I saw), as well as his mother (Martine Berthiaume) which, despite the poor staging, ring true. The climactic scene between these two is easily the best piece of physical acting in the show.

These are detrimentally contrasted by the “youth” scenes, where cartoonish (read flat and unbelievable) high school characters bully young James, contributing to his growing rage. The dialogue between the youth is lackluster, and it felt like playwright Davey Anderson got a bit lazy in his attempt to make the cool kids cool. In general, the script would benefit greatly from some dramaturgical assistance to tighten some holes in the context and supporting details. For example, I would be very surprised to find many people who consider American History X a good candidate for converting youth to the world of neo-Nazis, which is a prominent contextualizing allusion in this production.

The tale is narrated by older James (Michael Caza), and strikes some interesting notes for its style, being told in the second person. This counts as an attempt to force the audience into the predicaments that befall young James. The device is interesting, but used in a way that jars my experience of the show. Rather than being able to immerse my self in James’ life, I am constantly reminded that I’m not James.

The other aspect of the narration that bothers me is that I don’t know what to do with Caza’s constant presence on stage. He never quite fades into the background (as the narrator of a book might), but neither is he central to any of the action. I did like the moment when the two Jameses confront one another in the mirror, but this seemed small recompense for other moments when his lines seemed only to inhibit real interactions between characters. Older James is constantly saying “you said,” “he said,” and so on, like he’s reading aloud from a novel, when it is clear who said what: I just saw it happen! Caza does a good job with a role that I felt detracted immensely from the production’s potential.

This young company can take a number of good lessons from this production, and it’s certainly a better Fringe début than some. They haven’t shied away from topical and difficult issues, which is commendable. As the show presently stands, many the important moments come off as merely loud, and the exposition runs flat. If, in the future, they tighten their staging and the young cast hones their skills, they will have what it takes to put on a great show.

 

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