Friday, November 07, 2008

Comic Potential at Asheville High

Tonight and Tomorrow night, November 7th and 8th, 2008 at 7:30pm
Asheville High Arts Theater
Tickets $4 for students, $6 for adults

Comic Potential is set in "the foreseeable future when everything has changed except human nature". Fax machines are obsolete (they "went out twenty years ago") and androids (actoids, actually) have largely replaced actors.

The play opens in a television studio, where a programme is being put together -- a weepy soap opera. All the actors are, in fact, actoids -- and technically they aren't performing at the highest level. It is a hospital scene, and the doctor is "replacing its As with Us" (i.e. he wants to umputate rather than amputate his patient's limb) and there is a nurse laughing most inappropriately.

The TV programme is being overseen by Chandler Tate (who prefers to be called Chance), a washed-up American film director, now reduced to putting together such third-rate, low-budget shows. His support crew consists of a pair of [computer technicians], Prim and Trudi. To this mix is added Adam Trainsmith, a young, idealistic writer (and fan of Chandler's old film comedies) who happens to be the nephew of Lester Trainsmith, the media mogul who also owns this TV company.

It is Adam who discovers the talents of the laughing nurse-actoid. Her name -- or her identification number -- is JC-F31-333, but she winds up being called Jacie Triplethree. And it turns out she has moved a bit beyond her basic actoid programme. She doesn't understand it herself -- she thinks it is a programming fault -- but she couldn't help laughing during the earlier scene. In fact, she is taking on some very human features.

Jacie is able to learn, and Adam teaches her a thing or two about acting -- comedy in particular. She shows remarkable comic potential, and soon enough Adam has conceived a show for her to star in. The interfering hands of the extremely unpleasant Regional Director Carla Pepperbloom (a typical TV executive), threaten to ruin the project, but Adam and Jacie soldier on. They also fall in love. Complications and comedy abound. From wheelchair-bound Lester Trainsmith, who doesn't like to speak for himself, to Jacie's adventures in the real world as she and Adam flee the studio there are many fine scenes here. Ayckbourn delivers broad farce here, but he also shows a light, poignant touch. Naïve Jacie learns quickly but takes things very literally. Ayckbourn uses this very effectively, never going just for the simplest laughs but really developing a rich character here.

Comic Potential is very nicely developed, and Ayckbourn builds it up very effectively. Life cleverly imitates art here, but realism also always keeps idealism in check. Love and art are presented as the complex things they are, with no trite, easy answers offered. And Ayckbourn presents both hilarious farce and clever dialogue, nicely combining the two in this poignant and very entertaining piece.

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