This play was a wild ride and I’m still trying to figure it out a week later. Perhaps the greatest of praises: the play was a hefty 80 minutes but felt a lot shorter. That’s not only a testament to writer-director Aaron Low, but to the entire cast and crew. However, worth mentioning again, I’m still slightly confused – but I think that’s the point.
Punk is a play about a man, Emory (Edgar Viola), who finds himself turning into a machine. The play is also “about anger”, as our helpful Narrator (Matt Sheldon) tells us right at the beginning. The Narrator is evidently Emory after his transformation, helpfully indicated by the glitches and tweaks in his voice. Sound design (a credit to Imi) in general is at the forefront of this play, conveying much of Emory’s metamorphosis from man to machine.
Emory is an everyman, yet at the same time he is an outcast – this tension seems to characterise the play as a whole. Viola plays this fantastically, carefully taking us through the relatable scenes of mindlessly scrolling on TikTok, right through to the gut-wrenching scenes of Emory’s complete alienation from his circle of friends. This awkwardness is basically a result of Emory desperately trying to get the story out about the transformation to his journalist friend Mercy (AJ Culpepper-Wehr). At the same time, the play hints that Emory has always been the “weird one” of the group. It also explains that Emory is grieving his two parents. It’s unclear whether his personality, his grief, or the ‘becoming-robot’ is the central issue, but the play seems to suggest it’s all three. Sorry Emory.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention. Emory is enlisted by parody-of-an-evil-supervillain Gina Kavorkian (Flora Symington) to take the main role in her upcoming ‘snuff film’. I did not know what a snuff film was before entering the Burton Taylor, and I’m not sure I’m glad I know now. There were some audience members who let out an uncomfortable half-chuckle upon hearing about it, which probably says more about them.
To save you all the Google search, Gina asks Emory to star in a film depicting his own slow, eventual death. Admittedly, this did confuse me, since of course Emory’s computer self speaks to us throughout the play, but I suppose ‘death’ in this case was in a more mental, spiritual sense.
From this point onwards, the play takes a more sinister turn. It runs through Emory’s painful falling out with his supposed-friend Robin (Alex Bridges) culminating in a very shout-y scene that was either a highly moving scene of heartbreak at the loss of a friend, or a slightly overdone display of rage. The play was about anger, after all…
To be fair to them, there was definitely a lot of anger. There’s a particularly amusing scene (definitely on the absurd side) where Mercy and his partner Maria (Alice Bergoënd) shout at Emory’s neighbour for annoying him, resulting in a very quick escalation, names being called, gunshots. At this point you’ll see why the 80 minutes seemed to pass quickly. We were not bored. At all.
In general, the play seemed to have it all. Funny characters, an absurd plot, and surprisingly naturalistic writing, especially for a play about a man turning into a machine who has his slow death documented by a snuff-film director.
I would say I don’t know whether the play needed a Narrator. I ended up leaving feeling like some parts were over-explained, whilst still leaving the theatre in an overall confused state. Some explanations felt superfluous: starting a play explaining what it’s about; Gina explaining to Emory that his desire to put the story out about the transformation actually stems from an innate human desire to make something of one’s life. I think the machine stuff was a metaphor, but judging by the crazy robot-dance that rounds off the play’s action, it was definitely more real than not.
A laptop that is left open on a bar throughout the play is closed at the end. On leaving the theatre, I indeed felt like throwing away all my devices, and if that was the original goal of the play it definitely succeeded. Members of the audience I managed to speak to seemed to agree that the sound design was superb. In particular, a scene where Emory’s phone malfunctions and plays horrible music at maximum volume was chilling and led me to trust issues with my phone for at least a couple days after.
Overall, Punk was fun. It was light-hearted when it needed to be, and at other points rich and profound. The points mentioned above were ultimately nit-picking – the play was great at what it wanted to do, and this was only enhanced by a hilarious cast. I can’t wait to see what Edgar Viola performs in next, and likewise what Apropos of Nothing Productions has up their sleeve for the future.