If aliens do abduct anyone from Toronto in the next week, it will probably, aside from incidental probes for fun or out of habit, be in the hopes of snagging their tickets for Bright Lights. The run is brief, playwright/director Kat Sandler is on a roll with her Dora win for Mustard, the cast is packed with Fringe Festival favourites, and their is much to be gleaned about the extremities of human nature. And it is guaranteed that they will laugh, or however their species expresses merriment, out loud.
A support group for alien abductees gather for their regular meeting and greet a potential new member. The new member believes the facilitator is actually an alien and the "safe place" is shattered with accusations, confessions, sordid revelations and threats that escalate into violence. Sandler's script is packed with clever jokes, slapstick and sight gags, and it clips along at a relentless pace. There is a serious underlying theme questioning just how far people will go to deny reality but the main aim is to make the audience laugh.
And the audience does laugh. Laughs convulsively. So much so that the pacing is affected and some of the subtler comic lines and business are lost in the tsunami of hysterics. The cast is composed of comedians and their skill in creating rounded and sympathetic characters instantaneously is remarkable. That those characters evolve, at warp speed, into deranged and dangerous lunatics without losing audience empathy is even more remarkable. That the cast is, to a person, able to resist the urge to milk the laughs or revel in them is either powerful restraint or masochism. And, this is an observation/suspicion, improv and clown experience gives the line readings a freshness and a disturbing reality that is serious acting of the highest sort. And the most deliciously comic.
The suspension of disbelief was so carefully and calculatedly accomplished that when, as Bright Lights raced to its dramatic high point, a truck or motorcycle just outside the stage door began loudly revving its engines, I wondered if indeed the mother ship was landing. Or if we were in for some extraordinary special effect of alien invasion. I wouldn't put it past Sandler, but it wasn't in any way necessary, Bright Lights already contains enough comic fuel to take the audience to infinity and beyond.