9/11 has finally become delightful

By Simon Mallett

All too often, theatre can be easily ignored by the media for being nothing more than mere entertainment–like television or the movies, but with a much smaller audience. And it’s not really a huge surprise. If theatre is not dealing with news worthy events, then why should the news media pay any attention?

Enter X-Ray, a “musical thriller for our time” from Ghost River Theatre. Not only does X-Ray explore the stories at the top of the news, like the war on terror and the prisoner abuse in Abu Gharib but it raises questions about Canada’s place in all of these events and forces a reexamination of even the most fundamental assumptions around 9/11 and the events that followed.

Freakygirl, played by Kira Bradley, spent most her time instant-messaging Bro (David Van Belle), her American friend obsessed with 9/11 conspiracy theories, until seeing a pool of blood outside of the apartment. Her landlord, Nomran (Doug McKeag) had told her about forcing a troublesome tenant to leave the building, and now, she begins to question Norman’s story and refuses to leave her apartment. Intermingled with her constant discussions with Bro about world events, a pair of bizzare men referred to as “Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dumb” leads us into Freakgirl’s imagination. There, we’re brought back to Guantanamo Bay’s Camp X-Ray, the collapse of the towers on 9/11 and other events and locations, calling what most would consider indisputable knowledge of the events into question. Freakygirl’s paralysis and inaction in her own home becomes a metaphor for Canada’s inaction in these world events.

Well-crafted and effective are adjectives to be used a lot. The play is structured to take advantage of its juxtaposing scenes. A song about spanking, where McKeag dons a wig and large padded bra to play former first lady Barbara Bush and Van Belle crawls on his knees to play George W. as a child, is followed immediately by a grueling scene about the Abu Gharib prisoner abuse. The transition between these scenes is chilling, the spanking metaphor going from wildly comical to thoroughly sickening.

As for the songs, composer David Rhymer and the rest of the creative team have come up with an interesting mix of the cleverly metaphoric along with the far more blatant. In one of the play’s earlier songs, Norman sings about making everything clean while mopping the floor, the xenophobic undertones of which are quite chilling. Other songs are not as indirect, with blatant references almost making it seem as if the show’s creators want to make certain audiences “get it.” That’s not to say these more obvious works aren’t entertaining in their own right, but when put up against the pieces veiling their point on the surface, they seem slightly less imaginative.

Everything else works like a charm. The set, designed by Terry Gunvordahl, is simplistic, versatile and effective in its imagery, consisting of a solid door and two tall sections of chain link fence resembling the twin towers. Director Eric Rose does a good job of staging the play in the round, and the transparency of the fence units ensures the audience always has a good view of what’s going on. Which is perfect, because you don’t want to miss a moment of this one.

Thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking, X-Ray is relevant theatre exploring news worthy events and worthy of both media and audiences’ attention.


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