Sitting through Neighbours (by Allie Bell) is like sitting through the interrogation that Bell writes so effectively: frustrating, punishing, and seemingly endless. Rayyan (Mirian Katrib) is a “Classified Foreign Learner” living in the fictional parliament of Micarae; during the night, she is taken by government agents to a secret location to be questioned under suspicion of being an agent for foreign terror cell The Plums.
This play is a 24-Hour Play Contest winner, and I can see why, along with perceiving the less-successful hallmarks of a typical 24-hour play. Winning qualities include an inventive concept, an interesting made-up world, and an accurate-seeming recreation of an interrogation in a totalitarian regime where the accused seems to have no rights. Negatives include padded dialogue that goes in circles without going anywhere, seemingly a leftover from an assignment to write as much in as little time possible. Yes, we are in an interrogation simulation, but you have to ask yourself whether you want to equally disorient and torture your audience? Theatre as a simulation of pain and discomfort is a philosophy that many subscribe to. I am perhaps not avant-garde in my tastes, as I feel this is appropriate only to a point.
Give us something that moves, at least; for example, The Pillowman had a similar conceit of an interrogation, but moved from the questions that go nowhere or in circles to telling a fascinating story about the person seated in the interrogation chair, and his disturbing writing. Neighbours just seems to go on with the circular establishing dialogue, with some breaks for new props and devices like stilts. There is the occasional change in pacing, new idea, or change in time, but there is still that stagnant feeling as Murphy (Robert Fulton) and Kantz (James R. Woods) go over the good-cop, bad-cop routine. The issue is that, for a show to truly succeed, there needs to be either plot or character development, or for the show to be a comedy with successful uproarious humour as its goal, and this show does not really focus on any of these things.
Performances, despite a couple of stumbles with the dense and circular dialogue, are nice and snappy. I’m not sure, however, that the concept of “absurdism” is served as well as it could be with some strange props and the giving of alternate names, whether by a system of complex synonyms or just oddly-fitting sounds, to household terms and objects. The young man who flung himself down next to me smelling and complaining of drunkenness did laugh loudly at all the silly-sounding words, and several other people occasionally chuckled, but the comedy, when present, is very dark.
If you like a show that is claustrophobic, goes around in absurd circles, and really simulates an endless, confusing and tormenting interrogation, this show is for you, because it is rather good creating this atmosphere; I think it does what it’s striving to do. For me, mercifully, the show was 75 instead of the promised 85 minutes, because it is not my type of show.