After the year of 2016, it may come as no surprise that a play about the end of the world is now playing at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts.
Written and directed by Kat Sandler, ArtSci ’08, The End of the World Club (TEWC) features an ensemble cast of students from the Dan School of Drama and Music. The piece was collaboratively written by Sandler and the 15 cast members, resulting in, what Sandler calls, something between The Breakfast Club, 12 Angry Men and The Stanford Prison Experiment.
TEWC is set on the fictional campus of Aldridge University, modeled after Ontario schools like Queen’s. An Elon Musk-esque billionaire alumnus of the school sets up a ‘New World Challenge’ in which he puts 15 people in a room for three days in the hopes that they’ll be able to set up a new society, presumably without the failures and foibles of the one we’re blessed with now.
The 15 characters have immediate difficulties in their new colony, including a death on the first night. As it progresses, rifts begins to form between different members of the group, as they fight for survival.
The whole premise of the play, the creation of the new society, was a funny parody of today’s institutions that use ‘the youth’ to study and test their products.
New Aldridge, as the students call it, begins much in the same way as I assume the colonies did. The room the students are in for three days is very sparse. There’s a mock-farm, enough desks for everyone, a chalkboard and a box that comes with supplies they requested.
What caught my attention about this whole set up was how the organizers of the challenge made everyone wear a white t-shirt emblazoned with a specific societal role. Some read artist, one farmer, a lawyer, a leader, a priest — even a criminal.
Early in the challenge, one character took on the role of a leader. He was giving good ideas, boosting morale, but then there came the turning point. Astonishingly, the characters in the play all take the ‘criminal’ t-shirt to heart and lock him up characters in the play all take the ‘criminal’ t-shirt to heart and lock him up in an ad hoc prison.
In the prison scene, Sandler nailed the sense of danger that pervades North America. The students distract themselves from building anything which might aid New Aldridge, instead opting for a prison — short-term protection now, at the cost of definite future benefits later.
I could go on for days about everything Sandler managed to include in the play. The writing was a shock to the system, making you feel bad because you unconsciously yet assiduously malign the downtrodden around you for reasons which your great-great-grandfather was a little unsure of.
One scene that stuck with me was the instance when the lawyer, the most vitriolic character in the play, attempts to force heterosexual liaisons for the sake of procreation. The plumber — who’s openly gay — argues with the lawyer, which eventually results in the latter’s suggestion of punishing those who don’t reproduce.
Unfortunately, the play didn’t end well. By the conclusion, the character running the challenge announces to the two people left in the room, and in society, that this whole test was set up to fail.
There are many things wrong with this ending, primarily it’s defeatism. It pretty much says that we are homophobic, racist, hateful and all the other awful characteristics which these characters displayed because of societal influence.
Perhaps the ending was just a little too predetermined for me. Some may well find it perfectly suitable. The ending isn’t necessarily a judgment on human nature, so much as a realization of how cruel the world will probably be.
What this play does well is ask you why you make the associations you do. Why do I react so shocked when a man tries to kiss me? Why is a person less worthy of a societal role just because they’ve committed a crime?
At the end of the day in New Aldrige, the characters gather round the little faux-fire and play the guitar while the lights dim. They all sing, together, in harmony and nobodies t-shirt was readable. All that was noticeable was the music.
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