theatre review

Radix Theatre
October 1-2, 8-9
6:15 PM
First and Ontario, Municipal Parking Area
604-254-0707, ext. 1

The empty space, says Peter Brook, is where theatre begins. What if the space were a parking lot and the audience sat in their cars in a circle with sound provided through the car radios (tune to 89.3 FM), with the action taking place in another car inside the circle, with honking horns substituting for applause, with actors intervening as mechanics, cyclists, a tow truck driver (was he an actor?) and roller bladers delivering snacks that you order by flashing your emergency lights.

This is the fabulous idea of Radix Theatre, a company with one of the best web sites I’ve seen (, known for their ingenious site-specific performance events: the award-winning Bewildered, staged in an underground parkade, The Sniffy the Rat Bus Tour, The Swedish Play, set in a local Ikea. Half a Tank provides an opportunity to examine our obsessive-dependent car culture while offering playgoers an entirely new perspective on the theatrical experience. I couldn’t wait to see it. I even managed to bring Sue, who hardly ever comes to a play with me. Were we ever disappointed.

The show falls apart early, in the first, disorganized 20 minutes, when the novelty wears off quickly because pretty much nothing happens. Broadcasting through our radios, emcee Bob Piston (Andrew Laurenson) hems and haws his way through introductions, pausing for car songs, old car ads and uninteresting documentary material. We watch a ’78 Dodge being driven round and round the inner circle by stunt driver Cam Shaft (Sean Lang), whose job is to push the odometer over the 500,000 mile mark. He actually does a couple of stunts—eventually—as well as running out of gas, which serves as an opportunity for what Bob calls “a little pause in the show.” Trouble is the whole show feels like a series of under-rehearsed, badly improvised pauses.

Other things happen, all clever concepts but with little payoff. Mr. Austin Healy (Ron Samworth) conducts a “Carcophony” of honking horns and slamming doors, sloppily choreographed. Some little kids play “Darwinian Derby” by remote control, the winning toy car the one to survive being run over by the Dodge. We listen to “Car-a-oke,” a carful of our fellow audience members doing a really bad version of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.”

The saving grace through all this are the four gorgeous Roller Girls, all gum-snapping attitude, blood-red lipstick and long legs. Their spooky appearance at the expressionistic funeral that ends the play is a highlight, but alas, much too little too late.

Radix advertises the show as being “a spectacular meditation on our relationship with the automobile.” The meditation is severely lacking—few real ideas are to be found here. Spectacle there is, but it’s hardly worth running your battery down for.

last updated: Tuesday, December 28, 2004 8:11 PM
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