By AP Downey
Social limitations of minorities, infringements on human rights, sweatshops, racism, homophobia, and other such major issues confronting humanity are not humorous topics. Challenges to the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms make news, not sit-coms. So at the Birds and Stone Theatre, you feel so guilty after laughing for over half an hour. It’s like laughing at the front page of a newspaper, strewn with images and stories of horror and depression.
Rights and Freedumbs, the latest in the four-part Dog From the Machine series created by Downstage, is a witty and poignant look at humanities struggle to exist in harmony without violating each other’s rights. The play pulls its weight as political theatre without losing the sardonic viewpoint Canada is so fond of.
The show is a series of smart and well-written vignettes about human rights. The comedy flies by with scenes like “Politically Incorrect Guess Who”, where the actors ask questions about their opponent’s social limitations. “My Ethnic Wife” is a slap in the face satirization of both 1950’s housekeeping and the ethnic intolerance of our predominately white culture today. The two-part history of Canadian racism in Canada, played by a series of white and coloured sock puppets, is the highlight of the show. The white socks live happily ever after, in case you couldn’t see it coming.
The Dog From the Machine series is funny, but bites with more power than it barks. After a series of blatant laughs at the expense of every race, religion, and sex, the cast sucker-punches audiences in the gut, effectively shutting every mouth for a silent moment of contemplation–but that’s all we get, and they’re off and running into the next scene. The audience laughs, shuts up, and then has to register what forced such a violent switch.
The big Dan Perry, who plays the majority of the white “power” roles, changes aptly between goofy puns and cutting truth. His comic ally foolish face instantly switches to a look of extreme disgust for either of his fellow performers, or more effectively, the audience.
Veronica Carter, who alternatively plays all of the “ethnic” roles in the show, dominates the stage with every carefully chosen gesture, every raised eyebrow, every look at her fellow performers (all white), with a mixture of jealousy, envy, hatred, sadness, and patience with Caucasian ignorance.
The production, though, shows obvious signs of a rushed schedule, with its awkward transitions, slow pacing, and the odd fumble for the next line, but it’s the furthest thing from your mind. You watch laughing, but leave thinking. You feel grief and regret for laughing, and have to question where these feelings are coming from.
As fellow spectator, Braden Griffiths, perfectly sums up the show’s comedy and subject matter, “The part I liked best was the racism.”