A dark night of the soul on the 24-hour news cycle. Tragedy: A Tragedy. A Fringe review

Sarah Ormandy, Robert Benz, Cat Walsh, Cody Porter in Tragedy: A Tragedy. Photo by Mat Simpson

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

Tragedy: A Tragedy (Stage 3, Walterdale Theatre

The title’s a tip-off — and media types should permit themselves a little wince of apprehension.

Yup, they take it in the neck in the sharp and funny parody that launches Tragedy: A Tragedy, a clever ’90s play by the American playwright Will Eno (The Realistic Joneses). His signature skepticism about the skimpy ability of words to mean something is acutely on display, as we meet a local broadcast team, labouring mightily, with all the breathless, self-inflating gravity of the 24-hour news cycle, on a night when it might never be day. Ever again.

The local anchor, news veteran Frank (Robert Benz), is managing a team of reporters in the field, with all the crossed-wires that go into communication by headphone. Constance (Sarah Ormandy), is desperately looking for a human interest item at a house, and no one’s home. Michelle (Cat Walsh), the team legal advisor, is reporting from the steps of the governor’s mansion. John, played with hilariously perfect cadence by Cody Porter, is “in the field.”

And because they have, quite literally, zero to announce, they are skilled practitioners in the art of tautology (“Were you struck by anything … striking?”). Or making statements and palming them off as questions (“is the sense of tragedy palpable there?”).

The old pro Frank, who’s a master of the wordy circumlocution, annotates gamely. “I’ve just gotten word that we know nothing more.”

Gradually, glib melts away in the creeping existential terror of the uncontainable unknown. The statements from the governor are more and more alarming (“maybe it’ll only get harder and darker, too”). The reporters, ever more desperate to fill time, are reduced to personal anecdotes (“I was once in a car crash”) or advice (“sometimes if I’m not feeling well I lie down. Or failing that, I stand up…”). And suddenly, you realize, as charted smartly in Suzie Martin’s production, that they’re giving up on language itself and are grappling with a sense of utter emptiness. Porter’s performance stands out for its compelling breakdown into personal chaos.

And the Witness, who saw nothing unusual at all, comes unexpectedly into his own, a strange and wonderful development captured in Tellier’s open-eyed, uninflected delivery.

It’s a funny, scary little satire-turned-something else: the apocalypse as a slow burn-out. And director Martin lets it roll slowly slowly slowly. 

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