There’s a man standing on the edge of a seven-story building. He’s trying to decide whether or not to jump.
Between Thursday and Saturday last week, the UTM Drama Club performed 7 Stories, originally written by the Canadian playwright Morris Panych and premiered in 1989.
I found it fascinating that apart from the protagonist (Jackson Watt-Bowers), the unnamed man in the bowler hat, almost all the actors had to play their parts confined within seven window frames. The play was heavy on dialogue and the actors didn’t move around much, yet several topics worthy of rumination were touched upon amid their comedic banter.
Existentialist at heart, the structure of the writing always managed to push aside or ignore heavy subject matter using dark comedy, as all the characters seemed to be too busy trying to find meaning in their meaningless, though amusing, acts.
The show had some pretty intense moments of metatheatre at times, such as when the spotlight focused on Michael Merchant (Yona Roth) as he criticized the meaning of a play in its ambitiousness to capture an entire life’s worth within a mere hour or two—with no intermission.
Many moments of black humour occurred in the play in characters such as a nurse (Aria Sharma) claiming to be a humanitarian who actually loathes people; a psychiatrist (Stanley Tomlinson) who never got any sleep and needed a psychiatrist himself; and a couple (Mackenzie Burton, Lindsay Wu) that expressed their love by trying to kill one another.
It seemed to me that the crux of the psychological ailments of all these characters was that they were in a contradictory state of being. It was as if they were so busy just living that they didn’t take the time in their lives to question what they were living for. Such a play, no matter how hard it tries to snuff the question, cannot stop one from asking: what is the meaning of life? The story starts off with the protagonist wanting to jump off the building—how much longer could he go without having to face that question?
And the answer was truly mind-boggling. He does jump, yet he does not fall. As directors Hanna Termaat and Mackenzie Connelly wrote in their directors’ note, “There is much interpretation that comes with seeing this show.” I would have to agree. What does flying instead of falling mean for a man who jumped off a seven-story building? I think most of the audience was bewildered by this development as well, but before we could make sense of the symbolism behind it, a police officer (Dakota Rivait) appeared, telling us folks to go home; there was nothing to watch here because the show was over—and it couldn’t get any more metatheatrical then that.