By Arun Lakra
Directed by Andrea Donaldson
A Tarragon Theatre Production. January 11-February 12, 2017
Sequence won the Grand Prize in the 2011 Alberta Playwrighting Competition and later won an American award when it played in Bloomington, Indiana, so Calgary ophthalmologist Arun Lakra has been fortunate, indeed, and yet he is unfortunate in another sense. His eighty-minute four-hander is more a debate than a play. It is chock full of scientific knowledge, engages in witty cerebral discussion about luck and chance, God and science, love and despair, but the characters speak much more than they ever feel, and the dramatic action that crowds the final sequences seems forced and unconvincing.
There are two parallel story lines but Lakra’s attempt to balance them is erratic. Theo, (Kevin Bundy) described by Time magazine as the luckiest man in the world because he has a perfect 19-year record in predicting the winner of the Super Bowl, comes on like a circus star or ring-leader, walking under a ladder or yelling out the name “Macbeth” when he smashes a looking glass. His luck never seems to run out. But this is his charming side; the other side is sleazy, and is expressed by his breast and penis jokes. His antagonist is Cynthia (Ava Jane Markus), a math genius who also happens to be pregnant with her first child, who might be at real risk of a genetic disease. She doesn’t believe in luck.
The second story line is anchored in Dr. Guzman (Nancy Palk), a nearly blind but brilliant researcher with fiercely ironic wit. “Don’t test me. I have tenure!” she warns Adamson (Jesse LaVercombe), a young undergraduate with cerebral palsy who has got all 150 answers wrong on a multiple-choice test. His religious fervour has run into bad luck because he is confined to a wheelchair after a bad car accident, caused by a drunk driver. His bad luck deepens when he literally becomes Guzman’s captive and is threatened with dire torture.
Lakra appears to be channelling Tom Stoppard and John Mighton but he does not as yet possess the technical finesse or depth to create fully rounded human beings. Instead, he offers striking ironic parallels, dialectical talk about statistics, probability, and genetics, and absurd physical action in the penultimate sequences. With the honourable exception of Nancy Palk, whose Guzman is a cutting figure of snappily manipulative wit and irony, and flashes of intellectual bravado from Kevin Bundy, the cast doesn’t have an easy time of wit. LaVercombe manages to sound both nauseatingly righteous and vulnerable as the paraplegic, but he cannot transcend the incredible plot artifice, while Markus is more of an unchanging attitude than a character. And director Andrea Donaldson can’t camouflage the fact that the play is really not ready for a main stage.