Assembly Theater, One Four One Collective & The Spadina Avenue Gang / Two Minutes to Midnight, written by Michael Ross Albert, directed by Janelle Cooper, Assembly Theater, Apr. 12 to 24. Tickets available here.
Michael Ross Albert’s new play Two Minutes to Midnight is an amusing evening in the theater, which is a refreshing antidote to the tenor of the times. Amusing, but with a twist. The premise is that a nuclear missile has been launched, and the world is about to end.
In this two-hander, Jack (Luis Fernandes) and Tracy (Cass Van Wyck) are at an ocean resort, not just for a vacation, but so that Jack can make videos for their YouTube channel. His dream is to become a big-time influencer, which means bringing in big bucks.
In fact, Jack quit his job to do these videos, which document the couple’s life. That means that Tracy, who is still working, has paid for the vacation. She also pays the rent and all the bills for the apartment, because Jack moved in when he gave up his job.
Within the first few minutes of the play, chaos ensues as the air raid siren goes off and they get the text about the imminent attack. With everyone abandoning the resort, Jack and Tracy are left on their own, and it is the various twists and turns of their conversation that consumes the rest of the play – or what Tracy calls, engaging in “radical honesty”.
Playwright Albert has a knack for crafting very realistic dialogue interpolated with some genuinely funny lines, such as Tracy’s: “This means I’m going to die in a one-piece.” Overall, the play is not ha-ha funny. The amusement comes from the collision of two very different views of their relationship. Suffice it to say, and this isn’t giving anything away, that at the beginning of the play, Jack is about to propose, and Tracy is about to break-up.
Fernandes does a brilliant portrait of meltdown, which is his character’s arc for a good chunk of the play. Happily, director Janelle Cooper has not let him become a one-note Johnny, but ensures he incorporates some lows with the highs. You absolutely believe his hysteria at the approaching end of the world, but his moments of calm are just as realistic.
Van Wyck has the harder role, because Tracy is more complicated. She has to portray strength, disdain, anger, coldness, and even warmth, among a host of other emotions. Her mind seems to be always thinking and reasoning and planning, and Van Wyck certainly conveys Tracy as one very smart cookie.
The Assembly Theater, which is located in the far reaches of Parkdale on Queen St. West, has been carved out of a sunken storefront and a basement. It really is the proverbial hole in the wall, which means a tiny, tiny stage. Director Cooper, however, has smartly confined the actors’ movements to logical physicality. Nothing jars or is out of place with how the actors negotiate around the miniscule stage. I should also mention that Fernandes and Van Wyck have great chemistry together.
Big kudos to set designer Pascal Labillois for his impressive small space design, which features a flagstone floor, and a turquoise seascape on the back wall, with an archway to the restaurant on one side, and a sign to the restrooms on the other (which really are the theater’s toilets). A patio table, two chairs, and a pair of tropical palm plants complete the picture. Thanks to lighting designer Chin Palipane, the set is drenched in sunshine. It could be straight out of the Caribbean or Mexico.
There are some cute touches to rest of the evening. As you enter, you are welcomed to the resort and given a lei. (You get to choose the color.) The ticket office is a tiki bar, and drinks are served. Thus, you are in “Paradise” as they call it, before the play even begins.
Two Minutes to Midnight is not rocket science. The play is not meant to set the literary world on fire. Rather, it seems designed as pure entertainment, and although deeper meanings could be read into the script, why bother?
Instead, watch with some amusement as a bickering couple dissects their relationship as they careen towards the apocalypse.
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