B bombs

In B, a bomb comes disguised as a birthday present. (Photo by Tim Matheson)

I was so painfully bored after the first hour of B that I fled to my bed and watched the remaining 45 minutes the next morning. In those 45 minutes, Guillermo Calderón’s script gets a tiny bit better. A  tiny bit.  

In Calderón’s play, which is set in Chile, three members of a left-wing terrorist group plan to bomb a bank. Mostly, B is an absurdist satire of revolutionary zeal: its ardour, ineptitude, and futility.

A bomb maker named José Miguel shows up at a safe house where Marcela and Alejandra, the young women who are supposed to plant the bomb, are hiding out. When José Miguel challenges them about their motivations, all they can offer is platitudes. They are willing to risk lives to “Protest everything … You know … Because of the system.” They’re playing at being revolutionaries and they like how they look.

None of this is freshly observed or insightful. Political zeal can be ill-informed and performative? Gosh, I might have noticed that once in about 1969, but hardly ever since then.

And the absurdist “humour” is so fucking unfunny. For security reasons, everybody’s supposed to say “cow” or “cheese” instead of using the word bomb — but they keep forgetting. Screwing up her cover story, Marcela gets into increasingly elaborate lies: she tells a neighbour that it’s her birthday, but hardly anybody will be coming over because her boyfriend was just killed — by terrorists. None of this works. But it goes on forever — or until you fall sleep.

Jiv Parasram’s direction of Rumble Theatre’s digital production is deadly, deadly, deadly.

In his conception, all of the characters are in some kind of Zoom meeting. WHY? They’re all supposed to be in the same room, so why are they all staring at one another from little cells on a screen? And how is it that they can pass objects from one cell to another? It makes no sense.

The sound is excruciatingly bad. Attempts at reaction shots move like square wheels. Split-screen moments are amateur. And, for most of the performance, you can’t see the characters’ faces. You read that correctly. The script specifies that all three of the main characters wear masks so that they won’t be able to identify one another if interrogated. Even in a theatre, facelessness would be a big stumbling block. In a small-screen presentation, where faces can provide a lifeline of information and intimacy, it’s suicide.

In the second half — and after a good night’s sleep for me — things did get better.

Finally, a core conflict emerges. Alejandra wants to use a sound bomb, not a nail bomb: she wants to blow out the bank’s windows without killing anybody. José Miguel and Marcela disagree.

Positions emerge. Alejandra believes in agitation and propaganda: education. Marcela is swept up in the romance of violent revolution. And, even though he admits that left-wing terrorism never works, José Miguel wants to give it one more shot: “I want to win a war for a change.”

The discussion remains abstract, but at least there’s half an idea floating around.

Stylistically, though, the exercise remains flat. In this absurdist — and positional — world, the characters might well be played as clowns. Alejandra is the nervous one, Marcela the zealot, José Miguel the ancient. But, under Parasram’s direction, the mostly naturalistic characterizations bleed into one another. The exception is the trickster-like neighbour Carmen, who is played here — inconsistently under Parasram’s direction — as careening between ordinariness and lunacy.

I’m not laying any of this at the feet of the cast (Carmen Aguirre as José Miguel, María Esolan as Marcela, Lissa Neptuno as Carmen, and Lili Robinson as Alejandra.)

We’re all learning. Rumble’s production of B provides a whole lot of lessons about how not to produce digital theatre.

And let’s not forget that Rumble also recently produced the digital Good Things To Do, which got pretty much everything right.

Onward.

B is available online until Sunday, May 24. It’s free. Register at Eventbrite.

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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