Repetitive Strain Injury begins with a semi-comic riff on the perils of procrastination. The characters treat it as quirky characteristic, the production itself treats it as a tragic flaw. The 20-somethings whose misadventures, and inability to connect with life, drive Repetitive Strain Injury meander through some big themes and clever plot contrivances. Everything does not tie up neatly, but then neither does life. Especially if one procrastinates.
All the ingredients for a potboiler are in place - Lotharios! Lesbians! Infidelity! Marriage! Death! - but the playwright, Rob van Meenan, seems to be aiming for something more: a portrait of numbness and the inability to accept that life is either accepting one's fate or actively choosing what one wants life to be. Many of the set pieces are ingenious - a demonstration on how to pick up a one night stand; a dialogue with a telemarketer - and the cumulative effect is powerful, but the muted and inconsistent tone drag the proceedings down. Extremely witty lines are squandered for fear of getting laughs and the dramatic moments are deflected to avoid melodrama. Repetitive Strain Injury is an insightful and clever play but it rarely allows itself to be theatrical.
Pat Kiely is an amiable shaggy sexy presence as the central male character, but we never understand the impetus behind his passions. Amy Matysio as the love interest has great moments when she is allowed to use her razor-sharp comic timing, but is constrained by a character who is indecisive and constantly reacting. Imali Perera is a regal sage who seems initially to be the moral centre - her comic, and utterly incongrously sensible, putdowns are priceless - but is undone by one, or two, too many blatant film references and a touch of racial/sexuality stereotyping. Ava Markus sparkles as a sex object who is not the bimbo she appears to be, but is left drifting by the vagaries of the character. That's a lot of "but"s. But that is the point. A portrait of a quintet quipping to avoid reality or life decisions is bound to involve a lot of "but"s.
Only Robin Dunne as the truly odious Guy gets to revel in his character's smarmy charm. It is a theatrical cliche that the villain gets to walk away with the spoils but, that word again, the most unlovable character gets the most empathy and is the most compelling.
If Repetitive Strain Injury settled for being a comic romp it would be a smash. If Repetitive Strain Injury attempted a heightened slice-of-life drama, it would be a Canadian smash. That Repetitive Strain Injury strives for a unique hybrid, makes for an uneasy evening but, that word again, one that intrigues and lingers.
Repetitive Strain Injury continues until Sun, Dec 15 at Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst St. rsitoronto.com