Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Finding the truth is fantastic fun

by Kieron Quirke

"What is truth?" pondered Pontius Pilate, and he had a fair point. Our confused relationship with certainty is the theme of this quirkily clever, edifyingly fun and, in all, rather brilliant collage of cabaret from New York troupe The Civilians.

The piece is based on interviews with a selection of the company's fellow Americans, covering two key modern issues: the war on terror and the sexuality of Tom Cruise. How have these people gone about processing the mass of information presented to them by the media, friends and loved ones into something approaching knowledge?

The primary concern in all of this is the modern dilemma of how much we trust our governments. There are a few scenes that are directly on point - a young government worker tells how the failure of a foreign-student visa scheme was hushed up; a member of the National Guard explains why he doesn't bother loading his gun.

But mostly this isn't so much the politically charged, confessional documentary theatre we are used to as a network of lateral thoughts about the way human weakness affects our beliefs and loyalties.

Schrödinger's cat mewing from a deserted, suspicious bag that no one will open represents the clouding of our curiosity by fear. Romantic love and the unquestioning trust it engenders becomes a metaphor for patriotism.

Michael Friedman's excellent songs conjure atmospheres of confusion in support of these ideas. A tango-like number (Lady Beware), danced to by spies and translated by a scared interpreter, captures that uncertain feeling that the person doing the warning is the one of whom you should be scared.

The final minutes are perhaps less enthralling than the first hour, and there is a song at the end that provides more explanation than we need. But really, this is great stuff.

Photo Credit: Lateral thinking: The Civilians provide a brilliant collage of cabaret
[Photo by Leslie Lyons of (l-r) Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Daoud Heidami, Jennifer R. Morris, Brad Heberlee, and Caitlin Miller.]