THE LAB by Matthew Payne, directed by Ruth Madoc-Jones. Presented by Theatre SKAM at Royal St. George west parking lot (120 Howland). July 5-9 and July 11-12 at 10 pm, July 13-16 at 7 and 10 pm. Rating: NNNNN
You've heard of a play-within-a- play . Matthew Payne 's The Lab is kinda like an experiment-within-an-experiment. The audience sits in an unusual venue, a semi trailer parked in the Royal St. George parking lot, watching the adventures of the unnamed He, a student with a bizarre summer job counting new growths in Petri dishes. He's not told what they are or what the experiment is about.
"It's intentionally vague," says writer/performer Matthew Payne , who plays the show's six characters. "The show's dark, literally, since it's set in a trailer with minimal lighting; everything is mysterious.
"That's part of my view of science, which tells us that we're unravelling great mysteries, but most of us are no clearer about the things that have supposedly been figured out."
The production is by Theatre SKAM , that fine Victoria company that's brought some great shows to Toronto, including Billy Nothin', The Black Box and Aerwacol. It's a company that pushes the theatrical envelope, and The Lab is no exception.
Based on an experience that Payne himself had several years ago, the show draws parallels between He and the work he does.
"It's about layers of experimentation," he notes, "with the central figure in a new environment, responding to the various stimuli of the other characters, including a shy lab assistant from Newfoundland, a foul-mouthed American scientist and an undersexed Russian scientist."
SKAM does a lot of site-specific shows, sometimes finding the site first and sometimes beginning with the script. Whichever way it happens, script and venue have to marry.
This show began with the script; the lab itself is a portable unit that can be moved around and avoid being traced. There's a touch of X-Files intrigue in the actions of the scientists.
"But we can't forget that we have an audience in the space," notes Payne. "We're still playing with the arrangement of the seating and ventilation.
"It's one thing to leave viewers breathless, but you need them to keep breathing."