Review by Ellen S. Jaffe
Are our lives ruled by luck, chance, reason, DNA, or a divine plan? Sequence, the award-winning play by Arun Lakra, which premiered in Calgary in 2013 and is now onstage at the Tarragon, poses these questions – which may never have definite answers. The one-act play demonstrates a current tendency for playwrights to use scientific concepts in their work, as both content and metaphor. This is welcome, as science plays a major role in our lives & our thinking (perhaps similar to religion in former times), even for those of us who are not scientists. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann
There is a danger, however, that this kind of play can turn into a dialogue of ideas, without the nuances and ambivalent emotions of human characters.
Directed in a fast-paced, sparkling, choreographic style by Andrea Donaldson, Sequence is a clever play, with two strands of plot (with two characters in each). At first these stories seem separate but then interweave, like the two strands on the double-helix of DNA. Each strand asks us to consider what makes our lives “tick”: luck, chance, the DNA “sequence” we are born with, or God’s divine plan? Are there perhaps “lucky” and “unlucky” codes of DNA? Heisenberg’s “uncertainty principle” underlies the drama, which opens and closes with the same question, “Which came first?” (and does it matter?)
The characters’ intriguing, quick-witted dialogue tosses these concepts back and forth. For a while, I felt the play might succumb to being too conceptual, too much a tennis-match of ideas. Gradually, however, as the two plot strains come together, and the character’s lives connect emotionally, I became more engaged and involved.
The always-excellent Nancy Palk plays Dr. Guzman, a research scientist trying to find a cure for her own incipient blindness, with crispness, flair, and subtlety. I have seen Palk in several Tarragon and other plays, and it is a joy to watch the intensity with which she creates and embodies each different character. Dr. Guzman is riveting – a must-see performance. Jesse LaVercombe portrays her devout graduate student Mr. Adamson (note the name!) with earnest gusto; he has failed her exam by getting every question wrong, “a statistical near-impossibility.” The other dyad includes the seasoned actor Kevin Bundy as Theo, who has become a millionaire by successfully betting on the Superbowl for 20 years, and now writes successful books on how to change your luck. His panache is delightful (though hiding some darkness), and an excellent foil to Ava Jane Markus’s intriguing Cynthia, the troubled, pregnant young woman who approaches Theo after a lecture, hoping to find some luck of her own.
The characters interact on a streamlined set of white-boards (on which the actors write and draw), cabinets, and ladders, designed by Jason Hand, who also designed the clean, clear lighting. The mathematical Fibonacci sequence figures highly in the script and – as we learned in a talk-back session after the performance I saw – the set itself incorporates this fascinating sequence of numbers.
Joanna Yu’s costumes are simple and just-right, and the sound by Thomas Ryder Payne, a Tarragon veteran, heightens the mood without being over-stated. The props, designed by Care Robertson, are another important feature of the play. By the end, we may not be completely clear about what has happened – or what will happen – but that’s what uncertainty is all about. And the play gives us much to think about, the mark of effective theatre.
Sequence runs at the Tarragon Main Space through February 12th.