An insightful exploration of what it means to be alive and unwell in the twenty-first century, Coma Unplugged perfectly captures the uncertain world where lines blur and nothing is as simple as black, white or grey. Nothing is easy, nothing is easily defined and just like the seven billion people in our world, Coma Unplugged pushes forward through heartbreak and compassion into an ambiguous future with a very real, beating heart.
Coma Unplugged is an hour and a half long journey through the mind of a cynical humour columnist named Daniel Martin, played by Eloi ArchamBaudoin. Daniel is in the midst of a divorce and disillusioned with his life in spite of his enormous success as a columnist. The audience finds itself washed into the abyss of Daniel’s thoughts during a surreal evening in his new condo.
Characters from Daniel’s subconscious and memory pay him visits in his apartment, still cluttered from his move. Whether they are hallucinations, memories or figments of Daniel’s imagination, the characters all play a part in pushing Daniel towards a critical choice. This includes Marjorie, Daniel’s ex-wife, his mother Madeleine, a Tuareg warrior named Ishouad and Roger, a childhood bully.
ArchamBaudoin deftly handles the embittered Daniel as he slowly rediscovers the tenderness and joy he hid away behind sarcasm. Particularly enjoyable are Daniel’s scenes with Glenda Braganza’s Marjorie, played with passion and honesty as she struggles to reach Daniel. Braganza summons Marjorie’s desperation, rage and frustrated love with ease, burning brilliantly against Daniel’s affected cool.
The arrival of Madeleine, played by Susan Glover, is perfectly timed and Glover gives a flawless performance as a doting, talkative mother who brings Tupperware containers full of food and the latest family gossip to her son’s house.
Perhaps the least expected character is Tuareg warrior Ishouad. Chimwemwe Miller gives a solid performance as a mysterious, conflicted nomad warrior. Although the rapport between Daniel and Ishouad gleans a number of great moments, the ‘sarcastic Westerner and honourable warrior’ routine seems unimaginative compared to the rest of the play. The typical parade of miscommunication and cultural misunderstandings ensues after Ishouad appears and it takes some time for the characters to connect.
One of the most entertaining roles was Roger, a brash, noisy and immature man-child who prowls the stage aggressively as transforms his insecurity into organizations like Knights of the Phallusssss (“If we draw out the word, we’re metaphorically elongating the phallus itself!”) and Testosterone Warriors. The hilarity of Donovan Reiter’s character belies a wounded, frustrated divorcee like Daniel. In spite of Roger’s childish, erratic behaviour which stands in stark contrast to Daniel’s, the two are one and the same.
Perhaps most notable is the elaborate set designed by Lyne Paquette. Despite the small stage size, Paquette uses two towering metal shelving units to make the entire set seem much larger while replicating the feel of a messy condo. Books form strange stacks and moving boxes crowd the floor while above the characters the detritus of modern life line the shelves alongside funky lamps. Little of it is simply for display: characters interact with their environment and continually make use of their surroundings. Never do the characters seem thrust into an artificial world.
Production also shines in Coma Unplugged, which makes good use of lighting and colour. Daniel and his manifestations of Ishouad and Roger are wrapped in blue hues, from their clothing to lighting. Madeleine and Marjorie are all oranges and bright reds, vibrant and bold as they clash and console Daniel.
At once hilarious and poignant, Coma Unplugged is rich in cultural references, insights into everything from the importance of humour, the chaos of a globalized world to gender identity and the nature of failure. Bleeding modernity, the play refers to current events and makes good use of modern issues, tackling the cynicism and apathy becoming increasingly prevalent in modern society. Coma Unplugged is a contemporary jewel.
Coma Unplugged is playing until Oct. 29 at Conservatoire d’art dramatique et de musique (4750 Henri-Julien). For more information, visit www.talisman-theatre.com.