By Graeme Smith
The creepy crawlies are coming out to play.
The first thing you encounter in the Glen Morris Theatre is a bookshelf of computer manuals and science texts. The usher encourages browsing or taking a book with you into the theatre. But something’s not quite right — inside each book, pictures and words from insect texts are pasted underneath headings about computers.
That sets the mood for The Insect Play. You’ll feel even stranger once you enter the theatre. The stage is a giant circuit board with a wall of televisions dominating one end of the set. As you search for a seat, you’re haunted by unearthly creatures — actors in gothic makeup with spectacularly bad hair move like ghosts among the seats.
The play itself is a wild, surreal hallucination where humans play insect characters with disturbingly human qualities. The dung beetles are capitalists, building their precious ball of shit. The ants are bureaucratic drones, trapped into rigid organization.
One scene has the innocent but voracious Baby Larva (Nicole Fougere) devouring a pregnant Mrs. Cricket (Kristiana Painting). The moment, like others in the play, is amplified electronically — an offstage camera zooms in on the actors’ expressions and magnifies them through the multi-screened wall of televisions. It not only heightens the action onstage, but also gives the impression that the show is being watched through a giant compound eye.
The effect of the play is at once haunting, intriguing and thought-provoking. While it tackles serious themes — cruelty, limits to caring, technology — it still manages to draw out a few laughs. I laughed at the dung beetle fussing over her ball of shit, reminiscent of some hotshot fussing over their precious Mercedes.
The play is an adaptation of a script by Josef and Karel Capek, Czechoslovakian brothers who became famous in the 1920s for their play R.U.R, which popularized the term “robot.” The Insect Play is based on a cynical social satire from the same period, From the Lives of Insects.