The Sun Apparatus return to the Fringe with a new dark comedy, The ME, written by Bill Gallagher. It’s a dizzying, funny and frankly bizarre story that often touches on the profound.
‘Do you know what the worst inequality is? Between men and women… first and third world… rich and poor… The most insufferable inequality is between the living and the dead.’
Melody Zanzinger (Katherine Vince) is young and filthy rich. She’s also haunted by the idea of her own mortality. She suspends herself in strange pseudo-scientific apparatus and sits at home waiting for the latest anti-aging cream to be delivered. But all of this is in vain; she’s merely postponing the inevitable. Sooner or later she’ll get old and then she’ll die. And there’s nothing she or her diligent maid Lita (Dana Etgar) can do about it.
That is until Gretchen (Justina Kaminskaite), a mysterious delivery woman who just happens to have invented a cure for death, arrives on the scene. The drug is still under trial though – it’s only really been tested on a bonobo – and Gretchen has no idea how it might affect a human being. They need a guinea pig, so they use Lita. They feed her the drug (the ME) and without her permission they turn her immortal, to monitor the effects of the cure.
The four performers of The ME are super: four women with a penchant for making the surreal real, for delivering comedy with a precision. They grace each exuberant and strange character with a solid physicality. Vince gives a particularly strong performance as Mrs Zanzinger, treading the thin line between hilarious and tragic with utter believability.
Etgar’s Lita, however, is the true hero of the story. As the naïve and comic housekeeper, Lita seems to be the only character not motivated by power; she doesn’t have an easy life under the demands of her self-centred boss, but she’s also the only friend Mrs Zanzinger has and in this way she has all the power she needs. She soon falls prey to corruption though, particularly after the arrival of another strange woman – Peppy (Sarah Chenoweth Kenney) – who claims to be her sister. Her journey throughout the play is fantastic to watch – her characterisation is complex and richly drawn, and always very funny.
Kaminskaite plays the eerie scientist Gretchen as a studious, strange and distant woman whose motivation seems rooted only in scientific progress. Chenoweth Kenney frames Peppy as a fiery, psychotic character driven by destruction and violence (and money, of course).
This international, tight-knit company, led by Director Jacquie Crago, combines their talent and discipline with intuition and intelligence. The language and feel of the text with its surreal images and wit makes it feel like a cross between a Philip Ridley play and a Kurt Vonnegut novel. At times it slightly strays into the realm of pretentiousness with its barrage of iconic quotes from Che Guevara or Rosa Luxemburg, or its list of literary and academic references, but many of the images in the play are stark and powerful, such as the use of Cavafy’s poem Ithaca, or the biblical connotations of the ME being injected into an apple.
The second half of the story doesn’t feel quite as sharp as the first. There is a slightly hurried feel as everything comes crashing to a close, which makes Peppy’s character feel marginally crass and misplaced, and it doesn’t really tie the loose ends up as neatly as it could. That said, this is already a powerful play with the potential to develop into something great.