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Presented by Timothy Mooney Repertory Theatre

Reviewed: 2006-07-25 20:21:16
Rated: 9 out of 10 [4.5 Stars]
By: Robin Chase (e-mail private -- log in to view)

Elsewhere in the world, nations have disintegrated into smaller political units - the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia already gone ... and even on the North American continent, there is frequent talk of separatism both east and west in Canada. But the United States of America, in its modern-day history, has thus far remained immune to secessionist tendencies. Will it always be this way? What if, at some point in the future, the USA wasn't so united anymore?

In Timothy Mooney's new one-man sci-fi thriller, Criteria, the Union as we know it has crumbled. From a period of chaos where it was every region for itself, through subsequent conquest and alliances, there are now - in the 24th Century - three distinct political unions: California (comprising the entire far west of the former USA), Texas (mainly the old U.S. Midwest) and Virginia (the entire far east). What makes this demarcation unique is that it evolved along socio-economic lines - a class division that also has its roots in present-day society: the ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots, and a middle class under constant economic pressure. Mooney's extrapolation from current socio-economic reality is completely legitimate in a sci-fi setting.

(And what adds further credence to Mooney's scenario is the vitriolic ever-widening gulf between conservatives and liberals in early 21st Century America to the point where there are entire States lined up against each other. It's not so far-fetched to believe that one day, the USA will indeed split into three separate nations: one mainly conservative, one mainly liberal and one middle-of-the-road - existing on one land mass in a Cold War environment ready to explode at any moment.)

As Criteria begins, the audience senses it is receiving a lecture - a history lesson, of sorts - and soon realizes the lecturer is somewhat more intimate with immediate history than any usual teacher should be. This is the main character of the piece - portrayed by Mooney - a nameless man who at first doesn't seem to be speaking to a "like-minded" audience. We learn of his upbringing in a certain have-not "Union" where he was indoctrinated to mistrust, to envy and even to hate his "neighbours" to the west.

It is at this point that Mooney switches abruptly from passive lecturer to passionate storyteller, quickening his pace while sprinkling his story with dramatic pauses, at selected intervals where his listeners can only swallow dryly in nervous anticipation for what is about to unfold. This character is someone who knows whereof he speaks - a man who could literally, in his hands, hold the power to change history for good or ill.

But this performance is far from one-dimensional where characterization is concerned. Mooney adds a change-of-pace with an amusing scene in which his "man-with-no-name" stops in a diner in enemy territory - a scene integral to the plot as we realize later on - and must interact with a waitress and a truck driver (both portrayed vocally by Mooney to high humourous effect) who, in his mind, are being far too friendly and showing him way more kindness than he ever expected. His suspicions, plus his frustration at common cultural differences, inject a welcome lightness to the story at this juncture, because the final moments are extremely riveting with a twist designed to keep the audience guessing to very near the end.

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Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival
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-- Henry Ward Beecher

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