Plastic People players pack a satirical punch

Student theatre company merges awkward hilarity with social commentary

There’s nothing fake about these Plastic People players as they put on Punchline, an original piece of high energy laughs at Modern Fuel Artist-Run Gallery.
There’s nothing fake about these Plastic People players as they put on Punchline, an original piece of high energy laughs at Modern Fuel Artist-Run Gallery.
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The Plastic People Theatre Company is determined to go out with a bang—or two.

Punchline, the latest and last of the theatre company’s performances, pulls out all the stops, taking Plastic People’s traditional absurdism, social commentary and unapologetic vulgarity to new heights.

The play focuses on the exploits of two news anchors, each determined to fill the lone spot available at the news desk of NTV: National News Television.

Though it takes place in a bare room with a backstage formed by a folding screen, Plastic People constructs an interesting and meaningful focal point in a Plexiglass news desk. Allowing the audience to literally and figuratively see through the veneer of quick cuts, news anchor accents and power suits, the hypocrisy of television and its audience is highlighted from behind the desk.

The show transforms Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre’s sterile white walls with the help of filmed segments. The multimedia show projects photos and video shorts onto the wall as part of the cast’s ridiculous—and often incredibly funny—“special interest” segments, editorial pieces that mostly shed light on the sad lives of members of the news team members.

In a post-Anchorman world, a newsroom spoof can be risky. Fortunately, Ava McDonald and Ryan LaPlante pull off the roles of competitive co-anchors flawlessly, hurling insults at each other between ridiculous news stories. Some highlights include: “Now let’s take a look at this picture of a whale,” and “What are your thoughts on this week’s viewer poll? Does Diane have a bun in the oven?”

Though the story centres on the co-anchors, a large ensemble cast often interjects with vignettes ranging from random to hilarious to slightly disturbing. No subject’s safe from the relentless—and occasionally less than tasteful—mockery of the cast, touching on issues like 9/11, mental health disorders and necrophilia.

Though some of these vignettes—family members having simultaneous orgasms in front of the TV comes to mind—come off more awkward than funny, there are some truly hilarious moments as well. Look out for the complete reenactment of Forrest Gump, edited to include maximum advertising content, which showcases the skill of writers Irene Meimaris and Steve Sullivan, and the relentless energy of the cast.

This energy can work against them, however, as the ensemble’s screaming, frantic movements and absurd dialogue has the tendency to degenerate into incomprehensible chaos, leaving the audience questioning the message and purpose of several scenes.

Regardless, the message is fairly clear throughout: the Plastic People Theatre Company has crafted a spoof of television and advertising culture—in a hilariously crude scene, one woman’s tragic tale of sexual transgression is interrupted by the gigantic image of a hamburger, which announces above the woman’s tears that its two “beef-ish” patties will “fuck you in the flavour hole”—and forces the show’s audience to question whether or not the scatological farce they’re watching is actually more ridiculous than what they watch at home on a regular basis.

Punchline deals with the excess of television culture in a style even more excessive. The show’s ending is an intriguing and engaging, if off-putting, look at national news, TV and its audience. A recurring TBS funny-themed vignette questions what is acceptable to laugh at—an appropriate exploration for the Plastic People.

This show isn’t for everyone, and Punchline seems to enjoy that. Equal parts amusing and disturbing, and determined to make spectators question their role as an audience, the Plastic People have again created a show that will have its audience squirming in more ways than one. If you think you can handle it, turn the TV off for a night and go check out Punchline.

Punchline is tonight at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. at Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre, 21A Queen St. Tickets are $8 and are available at Destinations and at the door.

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