If you find it hard to stay on top of technological advancements, from Facebook to hacking to privacy laws, you might find the latest Tarragon Theatre production operates at an advanced master-class level.
The Summoned, a new play by playwright and actor Fabrizio Filippo (who also plays the lead character, Aldous), puts a family saga in the middle of a high-tech civil war. It begins with the phrase, “If it can be done, it will be done” projected onto a blue screen; the kind of blue screen that can signify the powering up of an Apple computer or complete malfunction.
Here, it’s being used in a corporate presentation to unveil new technology never thought possible. Rapid changes in technology are illustrated by decades-old personal computers lined up outside the theatre.
Aldous begins the presentation with a demonstration of the (in)efficiencies of Google search results. “Annie Mann” will bring up a famous singer and dating profile results, but not the real Annie Mann (Maggie Huculak), Aldous’s mother. They both live in and run a low-end airport hotel in Toronto that becomes the gathering place for Annie’s old colleagues when Khan, the CEO of a major Internet security company and Steve Jobs-like figure, dies and the group convenes for the reading of his will.
There’s money-driven partner Gary (John Bourgeois), his lascivious lawyer Laura (Kelli Fox) and their high-strung security guard Quentin (Tony Nappo), whose duties lie in both the physical and online worlds. Seemingly randomly thrown into the mix is Aldous’s sometime girlfriend Isla (a wonderful Rachel Cairns), a witty and flighty flight attendant.
What begins with Aldous’s slick speech turns into a quirky mix of extreme personalities in scenes that slip between the past and the present. Filippo excels as both playwright and performer, keeping the tension constantly taut between these caricatures with a few key plot twists.
You could think of these people as the manifestations of the Internet voice: sarcastic, bombastic, sensual, sometimes earnest (in Huculak’s more understated Annie) and downright emotionless; Filippo’s Aldous has a precisely disaffected monotone (think Abed in the TV show Community, if he was interested in computers instead of pop culture). In fact, Annie says, “The internet is the best thing to happen to exclamation marks”: these people are exclamation marks, personified.
At first, it’s all a bit much: the presentation, the graphics, the technological jargon, the characters, the transitions in time. But artistic director Richard Rose’s production settles into something strange and interesting, with the help of running gags like Quentin’s repeated destruction of every phone he uses.
Tarragon was once known for pushing the boundaries of Canadian playwriting but today is considered one of the safer establishments. The Summoned shows Tarragon isn’t afraid to keep taking risks. As Steve Jobs once said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”