Swinging Low

Armed is a play about balls.

I don’t mean the kind that you might let your kids play with at McDonald’s; I mean real balls, the kind that you would go to jail for letting your kids play with.

Armed is a play about testicles.

Or a lack of testicles, really.

Joe is a pretty average guy.  He has an average job, a girlfriend, an overbearing mother, has to deal with assholes at the office, and, oh yeah, his balls have recently vacated his scrotum.  Confronted with the loss of his manhood, he embarks on a quest to replace his diminished confidence with any and every symbol of masculinity he can think of, up to and including the replacement of one of his arms with a piece of live artillery.  Sorry, did I say average?

The most important thing to know about Armed, is that it is anything but average.  Few plays I have ever seen cram as much diverse absurdity into so little time.  Every moment you think you’ve seen the apex of its ridiculousness, it will take a sharp turn and introduce a pack of wolves, asking if you might reconsider.

The play’s absurdist swings and light tone are both its greatest strength and weakness.  Taking ostensibly heavy subject matter and casting aside all seriousness can lead to some great awkward comedy, and watching the adventures of a man going nuts because he’s lost his nuts is about as cringe-inducing as it can get.  Or, so you’d think.  The creative team interpreted their ludicrous premise as a challenge to increase the absurdity constantly from there, which it does with a straight upward trajectory.  Armed escalates with ambition.

On the other hand, the light tone and over-the-top delivery did leave me with the feeling that the play shied away from its potential.  The major missing piece to Armed is that despite its unique and identifiable premise, it doesn’t seem to know what it’s about.  Armed is a play that could deal with some interesting ideas if it wanted to.  The concept of masculinity being tied to a superficial physical attribute is obviously a central concept to the play, and Joe goes on an exploration to find a replacement  that could prove that a man is not defined by the size of his balls, but perhaps, by other measures more abstract.  But unfortunately, no payoff like this is ever revealed during the play’s single act.  Instead, Joe goes completely insane, which suggests that, yes in fact, without testicles, a man is pretty much screwed.

As Joe’s situation gradually becomes darker, the play starts painting Joe as a pitiable figure.  His actions become drastic and extreme, and a final climactic scene that skirts the line of comedy and drama has a great opportunity to end the play on a brave and meaningful final note, but instead it chooses to do none of that.  The play ends with Joe’s world back more or less to the status quo with no explanation of why or how that is even possible.  But his balls are back!  So I guess things are all better.

Armed is a play that includes no less than eleven characters, that is impressively put on by only three actors.  Darren Boquist plays Joe, the slightly demented but endlessly determined main character in search of his manhood.  Ky Scott plays the supporting cast of female characters, from a nagging mother whose mouth never stops to a particularly memorable doctor whose taste in salty refreshment will forever haunt me.  Munish Sharma does the duty of portraying the male supporting cast, playing everything from a jewelery salesman to a very mesmerizing pair of arms.  The entire cast put in great performances, especially in differentiating between the several characters that were being played by the same person.  It was great to hear the distinct voices and and observe the physical nuances that distinguished each character.

Armed left me laughing.  The extreme physical humour and impossible situations that played out on stage were greatly entertaining to watch.  But I was also ultimately disappointed with Armed.  Its story seemed to say nothing about any of its apparent themes by the time the actors came out to bow, with the concept of masculinity left as inseparable from actual testicles as it was when the play started.  It felt to me like a desire to edge more towards absurdist comedy left the play unwilling to tread deeper water.

Ultimately, Armed is a hilarious exploration of physical comedy, just not of physical masculinity.

Armed is put on by Xua Xua Productions and is playing at the Pacific Theatre until July 21.