By Fabrizio Filippo
Tarragon Theatre, Toronto
April 27 to May 29, 2016
The dialogue in The Summoned – and this play is nothing but dialogue – moves at the speed of electrons; appropriate considering the subject is digital technology. Fabrizio Filippo, the forever-young actor and playwright, wrote the heady 90-minute play and stars as Aldous, the son of Annie Mann (Maggie Huculak) who partly presides over this whirlwind production.
A collection of eccentric characters has been summoned for the reading of the last will and testament of Khan (“not Mr. Khan; Khan, like Cher”) a billionaire technology proprietor. Think Steve Jobs, Steve Bezos or any tech giant. It’s the striving of all the egos in this Silicon Valley simulacrum that propels The Summoned and makes the piece, ably directed by Richard Rose, a wearying watch.
“How far from our nature will technology take us?” is the leading question in this comedic sci-fi entertainment that spins on the theme, will humans overcome mortality? Emblazoned on the blue screen before the show begins is the statement, If It Can Be Done It Will Be Done.
Filippo, in hoody, jeans and sneakers, sets the pace with a machine-gun delivery to introduce the scene: a budget hotel near the Toronto airport where participants await the announcement from the grave (or cyberspace) of Khan’s legacy. High security is required. Tony Nappo is a goofy security type called Quentin who carries a large shoulder bag from which he pulls out numerous flip-phones, crushing them to bits as he grows frustrated with the proceedings. He sprays the room with odoriferous air freshener, later revealed to be nanno-robots with some ill intent. Annie Mann comes on, mike in hand, as if giving a TED talk; she is owner of the hotel, a possible Khan liaison, which makes Aldous his possible son.
John Bourgeois plays an explosive Gary Alameda, president of Khan’s tech empire. Kelli Fox is Laura Kessler, a sassy, sexy lawyer who has been handmaid to Khan’s ambitions and has a tendency to break into uncontrollable giggles. Rachel Cairns is Isla, a sparky airline stewardess who had some pivotal mid-air encounter with Khan.
Security is the big concern here, because apparently Khan (voiced by Alon Nashman, listed in the program as Walkie Talkie) built his empire on the creation of cyber security, with mechanisms such as “Log Secure System Refresh”. Sounds vaguely like a toilet bowl cleaner, says one wag.
Pronouncements are the order of the day, spoken rapid-fire and aimed to kill, as the characters spar over the big stakes, a fortune worth billions. Khan authored a quote that went down as real Shakespeare quote: “It is not in the stars, our destiny, but in ourselves.” Annie laments, “nature lost its grip on us.” And there are lots of zingers, along the lines of “the Internet is the best thing that ever happened to the exclamation mark.”
Kurt Firla’s video design and Jason Hand’s lighting and set design place the whole event in a wacky world of infinite possibility, i.e. cyberspace. Much of the dialogue is cleverly synched to text-style utterances running across the blue screen.
Not very much of lasting import is under scrutiny in The Summoned, but Filippo’s show makes a showcase for some terrific performers, including the playwright himself.
Top: Rachel Cairns and Fabrizio Filippo. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann