*The third paragraph of this review (beginning “This script raises…”) includes spoilers.
Local playwright Vishesh Abeyratne takes a bold step forward with Endlings, a post-apocalyptic tale in which human reproduction is strictly controlled by the state. Though it begins to engage with important issues such as the nature of desire and what is really in the best interests of the human race, the script would benefit from revisions that further explore the implications of its world, and the production would benefit from an outside perspective during the rehearsal process.
At some point in the future, the Earth’s surface has been rendered inhospitable to life, and humans have gone underground to survive. Most humans are no longer fertile, but the few who are earn the label of “Potentials,” and are paired off to procreate. Endlings follows two such Potentials, Kurt and Octavia, over the three-day period during which they must achieve successful insemination (there’s really no nice way of putting that, is there?). Kurt’s desire to form an emotional attachment to Octavia before the physical act confuses and frustrates her, and as they attempt to understand each other, we gradually learn each character’s secret plans within the larger world they inhabit.
This script raises some unanswered questions: why Potentials are granted three days to procreate over any other length of time; why non-Potentials are kept locked in holding cells; how Kurt was able to spend years in hiding despite inhabiting the same subterranean complex as the authorities he evaded; the unnamed state’s plan of action for achieving its goal of “returning us to our primitive roots” (besides the biology itself, how do they plan on a new Neanderthal population being able to run the life-support systems of the subterranean complex, unless there’s also a plan to rehabilitate the Earth’s surface, which has already been established as being unable to sustain life?).
It’s hinted that some sort of Brave New World type of genetic engineering is going on in the restricted facility that interests both Kurt and Octavia, but since both characters are outsiders to this part of the fictional world, the answers remain frustratingly out of reach. There are also some issues with the relationship between the two characters, mostly concerning the emotional labour on Octavia’s part: once Kurt convinces her to open up about herself, she coolly tells him how she was nearly raped by her brother, to which Kurt replies by reprimanding her for telling him such a disturbing story (like, you asked, man). Contrasted with the later revelation that Kurt’s missing parents have both been killed, when Octavia gently consoles an anguished Kurt – Octavia seems to have a lot more grit than Kurt, but the emotional treatment of the two characters seems uneven all the same.
On the production side of things, Endlings could benefit from an outside director to bring a fresh pair of eyes to the table. Abeyratne plays Kurt, as well has having written the script and directed the production – an arrangement like this is logistically easier, but misses out on opportunities to make the show stronger by having someone unfamiliar with the subject matter point out contradictions, and bringing their own unique perspective to bear on the material. Having different people working on the creative side works a sort of system of checks and balances – because everyone has to explain everything to each other in order for the production to get off the ground, the internal logic of the show comes out much stronger for it. In Endlings, besides the text, this dearth of perspectives takes a toll on Abeyratne’s acting – since he knows what he meant as the author he doesn’t have to explain his choices to the director (and vice versa) in terms of intonation, even when the line comes out sounding unnatural as a result. As an actor directing himself he can sometimes be little more emphatic at points than might be considered strictly necessary. Laura Sosnow brings a lot of simmering anger to the table as Octavia. Her bitter, jaded persona contrasts nicely with vulnerability she displays when she has to tell Kurt something she knows he won’t want to hear.
Endlings represents progress for Abeyratne, with a tighter focus than his previous Fringe offering (last year’s Small Creatures Such as We). Endlings could benefit from a further development process, but it’s off to a good start.
A Poo-Tee-Weet production
Written and Directed by Vishesh Abeyratne
Stage Manager/Assistant Director: Vanessa Passmore
Music Composition/Sound Design: Joey Zaurrini
Performed by Vishesh Abeyratne and Laura Sosnow
At The Improv Embassy (BYOV E)
Running Time: 60 minutes
Friday June 16 6:00pm
Saturday June 17 7:30pm