by MR Anderson
Jess’s brother died. A victim of this sudden and tragic loss, she attempts to move on. She moves to NYC to pursue her dreams, she talks to her family, she builds friendships. The only problem is, in our brave new Facebook-official world of attempting empathy, she’s finding it hard to grieve.
This is the crux of Canuck Downunder, a new play by Jessica Kazamel. Within the theater, plays surrounding the themes of family tragedy and social media can both come off as a bit hackneyed. The glory of Kazamel’s new work is this: it combines both with great success.
Firstly, the integration of the “tweet generation” is impressively seamless. Though viewed in the show as the vehicle through which the characters’ worst traits are channeled, it is one of the cleanest and no-fuss uses of cell phones, Skype calls, and text messaging I’ve seen presently. Combined with an exceptional lighting design (Jason Fok), the show is, understandably, a tech-heavy powerhouse within The New York International Fringe Festival.
Haley Sullivan as the protagonist Jess is an antennae of emotion. She receives from her acting partners and broadcasts her misery with heartbreaking openness. The negativity of her railing is never unjustified, and the play is a success as a result. Her mother (with playfully accurate mothering by Anita Rosner) and her living brother (played by an emotionally charged Vince Ryne) make the wounds real, with the three of them seeking from each other healing that they can’t always give.
Technology’s worst effects come out in roommates Hilary (played by an effectively infuriating Eloise Edwards) and Trent (Txai Frota makes a hysterical bro-force to be reckoned with), who in their attempts to console Jess, are blinded to her real needs and increase her suffering as a result. Best friend Chris (played by an unmistakable Brandon Looney) and hot-guy-in-bar Steve (a present and man-bun sporting Alexander Hodge) present a more empathic and healing outlet for Jess, which rounds out the cast.
Jessica Kazamel’s direction makes this piece more than a diatribe against technology. No, like any true argument, her leadership ensures that both sides are well-represented and the true villain is not easily defined. Her decision to do this makes the show’s job harder, but the message infinitely more thought-provoking. Canuck Downunder is still running, and you should be, too (to the theatre, that is).
Canuck Down Under plays through August 27 as part of the New York International Fringe Festival at Fringe Venue #15: SoHo Playhouse (15 Vandam Street). For tickets go to www.fringenyc.org or www.fringeonthefly.com