Orange clouds and a blue sky hung as the backdrop to an empty stage in the Annex Theater on Saturday night. Then, quite suddenly, the stage was filled with several actors performing an abrupt musical number. It was the first of many scenes in Holly Arsenault’s play that pushed for irony. The cast sung lines of America being the “most blessed place on Earth,” before the exuberant scene was suddenly juxtaposed with one of tension: the orange clouds becoming an eerie black as a young girl wondered through the darkness alone. This duality remains consistent throughout the play, The Great Inconvenience, as the audience is subjected to two realities: excessive patriotism in misleading representations of American history and a futuristic universe which evokes nothing but struggle and oppression.
This duality exists in the form of a play within a play. The setting takes place in a museum, where the workers are expected to reenact educational skits to visiting grade-school classes. Yet, the stories that these skits tell are false, by the plays own admission, and the truth that we later discover is that the government is concealing many truths about America’s past. It’s only until Beebi and Medjo’s worlds collide that the truth eventually comes to light.
The script attempts to navigate through a battle between upper class and lower class tensions, American history and censorship from the government. It’s a heavy task, but the script fairs well, as I was rarely bored throughout the performance. However, I felt that the audience was presented with a very surface level understanding of the characters. We aren’t given much information about the characters until very close to the end of the play. This approach is effective in setting the atmosphere of the play, as it keeps the viewer thinking throughout the performance, and allows us to feel some of the anxieties that the characters themselves were probably feeling. Regardless, I still spent so much of my time trying to fill in pieces of the story that by the time I was finally given necessary information, I was passed the point of caring. Perhaps if the play was longer than two hours the storyline may have been more impactful. Nevertheless, since more time was spent focusing on the theme of the play instead divulging into the characters themselves, I was unable to grow a strong attachment to anyone. When their somber backstories are finally revealed, I felt nothing more than indifference. However, the use of the history reenactments as a foil to the “real world” was a great artistic choice in terms of exploring the themes of censorship, oppression and rebellion.
The production itself was rather entertaining. The use of the stage, props, music and other sound effects was simple but effective, and the acting was great. I particularly enjoyed Marty Mukhalian’s performance as Cy, the oldest of the history reenactors. She was wise, yet careful to only give information when necessary, and her profession of love for cigarettes was a charming depiction of the mental state of the lower class. However, while I was sitting in the back near the fan, there were a few moments during the play where I simply couldn’t hear the actors at all. Still, the play ends on a strong note with a fantastic closing monologue.
Although The Great Inconvenience has a storyline that is spotty in some places, it’s this state of confusion and anxiety which draws the viewer in. You will spend the whole play trying to discover who the bad guys are and how this futuristic world came to be. This play is great for anyone interested in futuristic societies with a willingness to confront political conversations. The play will leave you talking as soon as the curtain closes.