NOBLE PARASITES by Mike McPhaden, directed by Rebecca Brown (Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson). To April 29. $25-$30, Sunday pwyc ($10 suggested). 416-504-7529. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Dystopias can have their comic sides, as Mike McPhaden's Noble Parasites demonstrates.
Two short, linked sci-fi pieces, The Bookworm and Sea Change, take us first to the distant and then to the near future. In the former, an underground civilization treats Mother Nature as a malevolent witch, and humankind survives through adherence to rigid rules and formulaic rituals. In the latter, a developer of virtual reality games finds himself tossed into a not-so-safe playing arena.
Dramatically tighter than its earlier SummerWorks version, The Bookworm takes place on the rite-of-passage day on which a young woman (Kate Hewlett) takes the exam that will make her an adult. Her teacher (Amy Rutherford) hopes for great things, but when the examiner turns out to be the Minister of Pedagogy (Julian Richings), both become nervous - and not just because he is a blessed host for one of the body parasites worshipped by this food-deprived culture.
In Sea Change, which has a generally lighter tone, inventor Thomas (Richings) moves from recreational games to political espionage, trying to sell a product to a group that desperately wants to win an upcoming election. In the process, he's caught between an effervescent innocent (Hewlett) and a young spy (Rutherford) familiar with the important secret code.
In this not-too-distant world of riots and general unease, Blackberries become part of the human anatomy and clothes are downloaded and printed on a home computer.
McPhaden is a wonderfully engaging writer, funny and articulate, and the dialogue, especially in Sea Change, has admirable smarts. In the first piece, Richings stands out as the grimly humorous, irascible Minister; he finds lots of nuance in the troubled, power-wielding figure. Hewlett caps the second with her work as a woman with a split personality.
The show would work even better if director Rebecca Brown's pacing were sharper; the first act, especially, needs more dramatic tautness.