False Claims is a rare farce that flirts with psychological depth
Eli Pasic’s False Claims—currently running at the Alumnae Theatre— is a farce about love, loyalty, and an insurance scam that threatens to tear apart an already broken family. As farces go, he takes things in a less-travelled direction, contrasting the humor, absurdity, and zany antics you’d expect from the genre with deeply troubled characters who are in many ways not exaggerations at all.
The story begins with George (Kevin Hare), whose wife, Margaret (Judith Johns Fiore), has left after suspecting him of cheating. As he prepares for a likely divorce, he intends to modify their life insurance policy accordingly. It’s this policy that will soon present itself as the perfect fraud.
George is the classic Hollywood leading man, all bluster and outrage when he’s not saving face with a smile. He has so many opportunities to atone for his selfishness, continually on the edge of absolution as we watch him double down on doubling down.
Linda, George’s sister-in-law, played by Heather Dick, is looking to shack up with him now that her sister is out of the picture. She doesn’t accept anything going on around her except what she wants to be true. She deflects or ignores what doesn’t match up to her worldview. This results in her dismissing certain characters’ agency, and unconditionally accepting others. The problem is we’re given no reason for this, nor is one hinted at. Sometimes, it’s as if the person addressing her isn’t even there. At the same time, her obliviousness reads as part comedy, and part coping mechanism, a pairing Dick pulls off like an actor who thinks of a stage when they think of home. In her hands, Linda’s evasions are a clinic in the art of timing, second only to Pasic’s knack for one-liners.
Dennis, George’s nephew, played by Isaiah Kolundzic, is False Claims’ leading man and devious fraudster mastermind. The limits of Dennis’ character only allow him a thief or conman’s mentality, regardless of the situation. His heart never shows itself and his self-interest is of the highest grade. The level of crookedness, on max and never wavering, adds a psychotic element to his decision making, but feels too one-dimensional for the extended run time he’s given to develop. The latter can also be said for Imogene (Melissa Taylor), George’s mistress, whose focus on using her looks to siphon funds from gullible men is compulsive in its relentlessness.
These characters are more believable that your typical farce because of their psychological makeups, even if they’re thinly constructed. Their patterns of behavior are so repetitive that they almost seem to be reacting to trauma.
On the other hand, we have a pair of performers who take a more holistic approach to their characters’ humanity. They are Kevin Forster as Jerry, Dennis’ brother and moral conscience, and Zachary Groombridge as Frank, George’s unwitting insurance rep. Forster takes Jerry’s type, that of the upstanding, rule-abiding square, and infuses it with a pent-up need to ditch fear and take chances. It’s the space between squaredom and risk-taking that gives Jerry his dynamism. Forster is also gifted with expressive movement, unveiling Jerry’s complexity by how he falls onto a couch or stretches his arms out for joy. A transformational quality also runs through Groombridge’s Frank, a sweet, acquiescent man with a healthy survival instinct when pressed to defend himself. It’s the suggestion of both inner and outer lives that sets these performances apart.
Add to that Kathleen Welch’s outstanding job as Elizabeth, George’s 86-year-old nightmare of a neighbour. Elizabeth’s presence chills the air in the room and her wacky expressions garner laughs almost on demand. A commanding supporting role made all the more impressive by a generational gap in age.
My guest, Lourdes, appreciated how close Pasic keeps to a classical farce, where sex and humour are the name of the game. In spite of this, we agreed that the work would have been better off showing less restraint. It is about as reigned in as off-the-wall can get, with emphasis on an ending that summarizes the plot to unnecessarily specific detail.
False Claims’ brand of absurdity makes an effort to turn the real world on its head, and this does offer us some unforgettable moments of irreverence. Favourites include Dennis’ slow-motion answering of a door, Elizabeth’s coughing fits, and Imogene’s use of a liquor cabinet for, shall we say, all-purpose storage. Much of the absurdity, though, is the result of performing actions over and over until meaning is brought into question. In other words, characters have limits to the motivations they were written to explore, limits they keep brushing up against. The emotional notes they can reach are too few to be confused with fully developed people, but they continually strive to reach them. What could be more human than that?
- False Claims is playing at the Alumnae Theatre (70 Berkeley Street) until August 11, 2019.
- Performances run Tuesday through Saturday at 8:00 pm, and Sunday at 2:00 pm.
- Tickets range from $24 to $30 and can be purchased online.
- The performance on Tuesday, August 6th, 8:00 pm, is a PWYC charity fundraiser, with all proceeds going to Easter Seals. A gala follows the show.
Photo provided by the False Claims Collective.