Two men frantically glance at each other from across the stage, their eyes widen in mutual fear as they simultaneously share a single thought – “he’s following me.”
From the moment I entered Memorial Hall at the University of New Brunswick for the Feb. 24 performance of Theatre UNB’s The Ends of the Earth, I was instantly filled with a sense of suspense as eerie violins swelled around me and purple lighting flooded the room.
The Ends of the Earth is a thrilling, philosophical comedy that follows Frank Gardner and Henry Walker, two paranoid men who believe that the other is their stalker.
The play, written by Morris Panych, is intelligent and admittedly may require a little brain work to follow the plot and slew of odd characters. Its unreliable narrators require the audience to think twice about the information they’re being told.
I, as an anxious person, am not typically a fan of thrillers or horrors. Perhaps it was the familiarity in Frank’s overthinking of every detail around him that made The Ends of the Earth an exception to that statement.
The play starts off slow as the audience is introduced to the daily life of Frank and some of the early jokes didn’t seem to fully land with the audience. In comparison to the more lively later half of the play, it felt as though it was a warm up for what was to come.
There was something undeniably disturbing yet so alluring about the obvious “not entirely sane” aura that each character carried on stage. Frank has an internal ego and hero complex that almost comically contrasts his external social awkwardness and fear of confrontation. Henry twitches maddeningly and will randomly cry “bingo!” when he lists the dozens of things that went wrong in his life. Then there’s Alice, the quietly intimidating innkeeper, whose blind eyes never quite land on whoever she is speaking to.
It was the small details in this play that really made it stand out.
The set was beautiful and dynamically built in a way that allowed fluid scene changes to move almost like contemporary dance. The costumes were meticulously built with small details like the senile, old man Jack’s shoes being untied. Order-obsessed Frank had his shirt tucked neatly into his pants during the show while his mirror-opposite Henry kept his untucked.
The production crew of this performance truly deserve a standing ovation for the incredible work they put forward.
I said earlier that the play is smart and complex, and it is. But with this complexity comes the risk of the plot and meaning being difficult to follow at times. I personally spent half the play believing that Detective Clayton was a representation of Frank and Henry’s paranoia, when in reality he is a detective interrogating them on the play’s events.
It is easy, in theatre productions, for background characters to be one-note or lack any personality besides a single joke. But the actors involved in The Ends of the Earth refused to let that be the case.
Every single one of the characters that walked onto that stage was clearly distinguishable, despite five of the actors taking on as many as five roles each.
David Dairo-Singerr, in particular, who took on the roles of Clayton, Jack, Lawrence, Sergio and Eduardo commanded every scene he was in. His ability to easily jump between characters, his subtle — and not so subtle — choices in expression and his variety in accents and body language made all of his characters stand out from the pack.
Each actor brought these flawed, unstable characters to life in a way that was so bizarre and yet also hilarious. I was grinning every time Jane Deil walked on stage as the psychic Millie because I knew that whatever this fraud-of-a-woman was about to say was going to be priceless. Armin Panjwani, who played Finn, Mona and Mag, brought a bubbly-energy to the stage that helped balance out some of the darker tones of the play. Kenzie Hinchey, who played Alice, June and Reggie, had a powerful stage presence that demanded the audience’s attention. In Act 2, I found myself on the edge of my seat, anticipating every second that Jordyn Atkinson would be on stage as the eccentric, empty-minded Willy.
Of course, as the lead roles of Frank and Henry, Adrian Saliendra and Seth Giberson each showcased a different set of skills
Both Saliendra and Giberson have a number of monologues and dialogues with one another where they narrate their paranoid thoughts and how they ended up in this situation — an estimated 40 to 50 per cent of the play. To be able to pull off these large expanses of speech, while also imbuing their characters with such emotion and expression, is a daunting challenge, but both actors excelled.
Saliendra did an amazing job at playing the more demure, anxious part of Frank’s character, but I wasn’t entirely convinced by his displays of anger.
The play was well done and thought-provoking. I found myself carefully picking apart each scene for the little details that were scattered across the stage, second-guessing every truth presented with an amount of paranoia similar to the main characters.
The Ends of the Earth is a play about fear, but it’s also a play about the need for community within one’s life. This show presented a cast with undeniable talent and an incredibly detailed production crew. While it could get a little confusing at times, the general message was clear — in Alice’s words, “people are always much worse when you imagine them.”