Friday, August 10, 2018

Chew over the ideas in ”The Great Inconvenience”

The Great Inconvenience (Ian Johnston)
The Great Inconvenience
Annex Theatre
Through August 18, 2018

Holly Arsenault’s new play, The Great Inconvenience, is now presenting at Annex Theatre. The press release describes it thusly: “2050. Somewhere on the West Coast of the United States. A scrappy group of historical re-enactors—orphans of our next civil war—have formed a chosen family.

“Abandoned by a government that no longer pretends to serve any but the rich, their survival gig is helping to whitewash some of the worst atrocities in American history for audiences of wealthy schoolchildren. When an unexpected visitor starts camping out in their dioramas, portending a new and growing danger, they’re forced to face their own histories, and contend with the revelation that the woman they all work for is much more than just their boss.”

Succinctly describing plays is definitely a challenge sometimes and after seeing this play, that description does a pretty good job of it, but even so, there is so much packed inside this piece that you might walk away, as I did, mulling it over and over and over.
It’s a very dystopian future. It’s a very political comment on our times. It supposes that there was a great war in the 20-twenties – an actual war – with millions killed, and it was essentially won by Wealthy White Supremacists. It may be that Arsenault only meant that the winners were Wealthy and I’ve added the White Supremacists. But it’s been 25 years and people have been divided into the Valley and the Hill people, and the Valley people are poor and oppressed and the Hill people are living it up and teaching their children historical fables instead of real history.

Arsenault was moved by historic forced migrations, many that are still under-taught in school. While we might easily recognize the tragedy of the Japanese Internment, and some might know about the Trail of Tears, forcing thousands of Native Americans to march for hundreds of miles, many losing their lives in the process, Arsenault includes the displacement of Acadians from Canada, also known as The Great Expulsion (among other “The Great” appellations) and the Mexican Repatriation of 1929-1936 (of thousands of American citizens! to Mexico). I, too, had to look both of those up for reference!

In TGI, we meet three young folk, Anoushka (Jocelyn Maher), Archie (Nick Edwards), Beebi (Mi Kang) whose job it is to present living diorama presentations about history in a museum. “Hill” children – rich kids – are sent, like many school outings, on educational field trips. The presenters seem to be trapped, though they can leave and go home, but their existence is very controlled by government and they themselves were raised, we think, in government orphanages that also fed these orphans bad history.

The presenters were hired by Cy (Marty Mukhalian), a no-nonsense woman who keeps the museum running, and later turns out to have a very mysterious past. But first, another mystery appears. A young woman has made her way into the museum to hide there and wait for her parents. In any upheaval, there are resistors, and we immediately must assume that Medjo (Samantha Canela) and her parents are part of that activity.

Also, Medjo knows things about some of these museum folks: facts that even they don’t know about themselves. How could this be? Even though the pr blurb gives hints, it’s probably best that a review doesn’t quite spoil all the reveals.

It’s an emotional piece, underneath it all, and sometimes that means that the whole world of the play might not get quite as fully fleshed out as we might desire. It’s packed full of potent moments of commentary and a lot to think about afterward, which is something I particularly enjoy after an evening of theater. If I leave and forget the show, maybe it was pleasant? But was it significant? This certainly feels more significant, given how chewy it is.

It’s a solidly “made” production, with cheesy diorama costuming by Emily Woods Hogue and great sound support from Rob Witmer and Chris Leher. Erin Kraft’s direction makes it easy to understand where the characters are physically, in this complicated world. The cast is great.

If I were to update this dystopia, I might think everyone should be talking Russian. If I am correct that it’s Wealthy White Supremacists, by this point, we can’t avoid thinking that the alliance with Russia could really change the world, right? It’s so far fetched that it can’t quite be taken seriously (my version), but Arsenault’s point – that we all need better historic understanding – is quite well taken!

For more information, go to or call 206-728-0933. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

This is a moderated comment section. Any comment can be deleted if the moderator feels that basic civility standards are not being met. Disagreements, however, if respectfully stated, are certainly welcome. Just keep the discussion intelligent and relatively kind.