REVIEW: The Non-Surgeon’s Guide to the Appendectomy (and other games) (The Basement)

One of Christine Urquhart's incredible sets...

We lost the patient [by Matt Baker]

Check out this set!
Check out this set!

Successfully transforming a performance space can win over your audience before the dialogue of a show even begins, and the combination Christine Urquhart’s foreboding set, stark lighting by Nicole Astrella, and ominous sound composition by Sinisha Milkovic has me immediately geared for Finnius Teppet’s (arguably) absurdist play. Even though the debate on the purpose of the appendix is waning due to conclusive theory on its lymphatic tissue, combining the knowledge of our scientific world with the mythology of Teppett’s play is an enjoyable suspension of disbelief. This suspension begins to wane, however, as the script never takes what appears early on as a potentially harrowing journey to its logical extreme.

Like Ionesco’s Berenger or The Matrix’s Neo, every journey into an unknown world requires an every man conduit with whom the audience can relate. Unfortunately, Chris Bryan seems too caught up in forcing the style of the play to understand his part in it, so much so that I don’t get the impression that he is a character who “know[‘s] how to slip into the background.” Add to this the fact that it sounds like he has laryngitis (it actually hurts to listen to him) and the audience is thrown head first at the rabbit-hole, instead of being teased into it.

Kevin Harty is locked into a repetitive cadence with both of his characters, and allows his tentativeness with the words in the script to hinder his drive. Neither Harty nor Bryan seems to hear the musicality of Teppett’s dialogue. They also don’t listen or react organically off each other, the lines locked in to presumed”funny” deliveries, which detract from the components that make up the plot. Fortunately, Esmée Myers understands the level of performance required to make the script work, with a grandiose Southern-belle reminiscent of Blanche du Bois. Myers sells every word and executes the capriciousness of her character with absolute charm.

The cast engages with Urquhart’s set, which allows for so much play, but there’s constraint in the chaos they attempt to ensue. Milkovic’s sound design can be more than just a top and tail to the show, and Astrella’s operation can afford to take more time in its transitions. Directed by Jesse Hilford, the pace drags, especially in the third act, with a lack of clarity in the beats unless someone leaves or enters the stage. It’s frustrating, because I enjoy Teppet’s writing, even though I am left wanting more from it. It borders on absurdism, but it lacks the extremity. A meat hook and pliers are produced, but no one performs a self-appendectomy in this play. It’s a classic misfire of Chekhov’s gun. There’s also the missed opportunity for absurdist repetition at the end. While the production design team successfully creates the world embedded in Teppett’s script, Hilford’s direction and the male cast ultimately lack the truthful balance required for the style of the play.

The Non-Surgeon’s Guide to the Appendectomy plays at The Basement until March 7. For details see The Basement.

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