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Category E: a dsytopian future where humans are lapins - Drew Rowsome - MyGayToronto

Category E: a dsytopian future where humans are lapins
13 April 2018

by Drew Rowsome - Photos by Tim Leyes

The Coal Mine Theatre is an intimate space, deep and narrow. When a cage is set in the middle, with the seats on either side, it becomes almost claustrophobic. The perfect setting for what is billed as a "horror-comedy." The tension of what the wire mesh will protect us from, it feels very WWE cage match, dissipates as the audience realizes that the fencing is for us to peer through, to watch those who are trapped within. 

The stage/cage contains two cots and has a clinical feel, whitewash over brick and harsh fluorescent lights. Corcoran (Robert Perschini) is in a wheelchair, picking at what appears to be a scab under an eye patch while doing a cryptic crossword puzzle that we learn is 17-years-old. Newspapers are apparently long extinct in this dystopian future. His cellmate is Diana Bentley as Filigree who is considerably paler, erratic and twitching with violence. Enter Vivien Endicott-Douglas (The Circle) as Millet, a new roommate. 

And of course, remember that there are only two cots.

Belinda Cornish's Category E pulls its plot from several Star Trek and other sci fi classics (there is an explicit Logan's Run reference), where a disparate group are held captive and mysteriously experimented upon. The difference here is that the characters seem to understand and accept their situation, while the horrified audience has to puzzle it out. The clues are cleverly revealed and remain evasive enough to create tension though the climax is telegraphed very early on. There are also a series of metaphors - carrots, quotes from Alice in Wonderland - that suggest, with little subtlety, that the characters are less WWE and more WWF or PETA stand-ins.

Be warned that the small amount of comedy is very dark and the horror is front and centre. We never see the experiments, but we do see graphic evidence of the results. The voiceovers, ads for various beauty and dubious health products, for scene changes are comical but, and here is the true horror, too close to contemporary commercials to register as cutting-edge satire. Bentley does deliver some fine physical comedy as she leaps from her bed to scratch her butt against the wall. Even better, the laughs come back to haunt when we find out - in the best reveal and line of Category E - why she itches.

Bentley is quicksilver at moving convincingly from passive observer to manic aggressor, and her character's secret is a very disturbing one that makes Bentley's performance all the more remarkable. Endicott-Douglas has heavy lifting to do in making a shallow and annoying character someone to root for. She has a subtle way of adding small physical details to contradict her words and creating a well-rounded but contradictory Millet. Director Rae Ellen Bodie (The Picture of Happiness) emphasizes the realism of the setting with concrete props, convincing gore, and a minimal emphasis on the science fiction elements. The concept appears to be unleashing great grounded performances upon a negligible play.

Persichini is a solid and intriguing presence throughout, and delivers a transcendent moment when he unleashes his theatrical baritone to tell a story. It is spine-tingling. And heartbreaking when it is echoed later in the play. His plot twist is downplayed instead of being a big reveal which adds to the cryptic, pun intended, quality of Corcoran. And it is fascinating to watch how physical a performance Persichini can conjure while confined to a wheelchair in a small, enclosed space.

Corcoran not only tells off-the-cuff stories, but he is suspiciously well-read and educated. He and Millett discuss literature and mathematics in laboured metaphors and when they debate Finnegan's Wake, Filigree screams, "What's the story?" Of course Finnegan's Wake is deliberately obtuse and intentionally devoid of plot, Corcoran, like many, wasn't even able to finish reading it. Cornish has carefully given herself a valid excuse against Category E-naysayers. If only the text had had the conviction and skill of the team at the Coal Mine, an excuse wouldn't have been needed.

Category E continues until Sun, April 29 at the Coal Mine Theatre, 1454 Danforth Ave. coalminetheatre.com

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