A “dark meditation on the nature of ambition and contentment” on the Toronto stage
We’ve had a solid decade of immersion in social media. The internet itself has become such an essential, integrated part of our daily lives that it often requires us to ask probing questions about the nature of human interaction and the possibilities of personalized technology. With similar thematic concerns as Black Mirror, Scapegoat Collective’s production of Daniel Pagett’s Cloud (currently playing at Artscape Sandbox), delves into some very intriguing speculative fiction.
What if we could upload our thoughts and emotions to the net? What if we could instantly tap into the experiences of anyone else on the planet and experience them first-hand and in real time?
Edward (Tim Fitzgerald Walker), a “sci-fi conceptualist” (I think I’m remembering that correctly) with a tech firm, has a dream to make this seamless social integration possible. Working with his lover and collaborator, Jessica (Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah), he has created the Cloud, a virtual space where anyone and everyone can tap into a mass collective consciousness. Edward recruits his best friend, a marketing specialist within the firm, Geoff (Jonas Widdifield), to help them test and, eventually, launch this creation.
While Edward has lofty ambitions for his creation—like world peace—Geoff simply wants to profit from this new technology. After testing it on themselves, which turns out to be as overwhelming and disturbing an experience as it is a transcendent one, their creation is taken out of their hands and released to the world. What follows is a whirlwind of psychological confusion and societal upheaval.
Daniel Pagett’s script tackles some grand ideas such as consciousness, empathy, and individuality. There are a handful of secondary characters we follow as they are caught up in the Cloud. Tyler and Perry (G. Kyle Shields and Alexander Plouffe) are two young men who quickly fall in love and use it to overcome a relationship obstacle. There’s Brenda (Ally Caruso), perhaps a favourite of mine, an unassuming woman who accidentally becomes a key figure in a resistance movement.
Serving as narrator to all this is Anand Rajaram’s Human. His lead-ins to each of the scenes are often hilarious, but he serves a far greater purpose than simply introducing the characters and their world. In Brechtian fashion, he draws our attention to the phenomenon of theatrical presentation and encourages us, as individuals, to be consciously aware of our own participation in the storytelling.
Lindsay Dagger Junkin’s minimalist set consists of four scrim monoliths—plain white slabs when lit from the front, aglow with vibrant colour when lit from within. These are shuffled around to suggest a number of different locations. The overall impression is of mundane, featureless environments that appear cold and sterile yet seem full of hidden potential. This potential is strictly internal. I could sense vast landscapes of emotion overrun with fragments of thought, a cacophony of human experience that seems physically present.
Pagett’s direction is austere and highly stylized. This suits his text which is full of well-articulated ideas. His characters, while engaging, often seem like the embodiment of those ideas rather than purely naturalistic representations of people. They don’t seem false or empty, but for me, they were like vessels—struggling to express their own unique little sliver of humanity. The performances are solid and give weight to these fragments of humanity.
I imagine you will find a specific character, interaction or idea that will epitomize what Cloud is ultimately about for you personally. For me, it was the question posed by Human: what is the memory you have that could not have been experienced by anybody else, ever before—that can be only you? (Y’know, I’m still trying to find it.)
As the Cloud wreaks havoc on society and the story becomes a dark meditation on the nature of ambition and contentment, I found myself wondering how Pagett would end this tale. Would he appeal to the intellect or jab me with the feels?
Well, I left the theatre moved and I’m still unpacking it. If, like me, you enjoy that sort of engagement, Cloud will be a rewarding experience.
- Cloud plays at the Artscape Sandbox (301 Adelaide St. W.) until November 5, 2017.
- Shows run Tuesday through Sunday at 8:00pm, with Sunday matinees at 2:00pm (no evening show on final Sunday).
- Tickets are $30 and can be purchased on eventbrite.ca
Photo of Anand Rajaram by John Gundy.