Gritty territory explored in CAT’s latest

Central Alberta Theatre has gone in a strikingly new direction with their latest production Asylum, which is currently showing at City Centre Stage through to May 5. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m.

Written by Keith Aisner and directed by Tara Rorke, the play is described as a ‘little romp into the surreal’. Gary (John Dyck) has taken up a new addiction – dreaming. It’s a bold, exciting new world for him as he has learned to control his dreams, and all kinds of titillating, compelling territory is explored from sex to religion to philosophy.

But it’s certainly not all a smooth ride. There are a multitude of disturbing complications as his mentally ill mother (Angel Paulsen), his brother Frank (Tyler Duffy) and a slate of others make appearances in his dreams/life as his bizarre tale unfolds.

Asylum is certainly unlike anything CAT has staged before, and for the most part, it’s good to see the troupe striding out into new territory. That doesn’t mean Asylum will suit everyone – far from it. CAT audiences used to the usual material — an emphasis on light-hearted farce/comedy, will likely not appreciate the play’s gritty and unapologetically coarse subject matter. During the show I attended, several people walked out after about 15 minutes.

It is a bit of a shocker to hear a CAT play with language and frank sexual talk surfacing throughout, but I would say the bulk of what would be offensive is in the first portion of the play. The second half is more enjoyable, mainly because it becomes more of a human story – there’s sadness, vulnerability, and pain for Gary as he journeys through his experiences to find peace with who he really is, and with reality itself.

As Gary, Dyke is of course at the heart of the story. He does an excellent job with the role; always believable and providing just the right amount of emotion and mood to what a given scene requires. Mike Mohr plays his faithful buddy Davis really well, too. Although he doesn’t have much stage time, Mohr makes the most of it as does Nicole Leal as Gary’s girlfriend Angela.

As the mother, Angel Paulsen is particularly strong – her vulnerability and despair is palpable; she also shows a tender, affectionate side but there’s always that knowledge that her mind is indeed fragile. The devastating impact of her illness on those around her also becomes clearer as the plot unfolds. Jarett Johnson is a convincingly menacing and manipulative Satan, Harvey Brink is clever and amusing as Dr. Capote as is the scene-stealing salesman played by Martin Kvapil. And the very talented Matt Dale also does an outstanding job in the role of God.

Asylum is fueled by the strength of the performances, but that’s not to say it’s a perfect show. The first part, in spite of the ‘shock value’ of language and crudity, seriously lagged in parts and there didn’t seem to be much of a connection with the audience.

But ultimately, it’s a thought-provoking story. Again, much of the credit has to go to Dyck who makes Gary an accessible and likable character as he wanders through an at times bewildering and troubling mesh of dreams and reality.

Asylum contains crude subject matter and language and is for adults only.

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