THEATRE REVIEW: Daniel MacIvor’s In On It is slightly out of it

In the play within a play that is Daniel MacIvor’s “In On It,” the playwright is messing with our heads. It won’t insult your intelligence – but it will go out of its way to mock same, while aiming for an audience smart enough to know the difference.

In On It plays at Theatre Network’s Roxy Theatre through May 20.

Nathan Cuckow and Frank Zotter are That One (Ray) and This One (Ray’s doctor), respectively, actors playing actors currently in rehearsal of a play. Doctor wants to run Ray through even more testing to make sure Ray is not suffering from some medical calamity that goes unnamed. Ray does not take this news well. In fact, he uses the opportunity to bitch about the doctor’s receptionist. “She can’t even remember my name”, whines Ray, “Either she’s too stupid or she’s being malicious, and I don’t think she’s smart enough for malice!”

There is another plot involving a couple breaking up and the child caught in the middle. And still another yarn about a car accident, and one more about the suicidal impulses of a middle aged man who is in the process of settling his affairs. There is enough evidence to suggest that these stories are intertwined, but there is enough ambiguity to support an argument that they are not. Turns out that it really doesn’t matter.

With each scene comes a bitchy dissertation about character motivations and acting choices. Every scene goes through this process, so the play’s flow is fragmented. There is a false climax and endless codas. At one point, the proceedings grind to a halt so This and That can discuss the poster design of the very play they seem already be in, and whine about the things they don’t like about it (this is actually written into the script).

It’s pretty much a shopping list of irksome things that one sometimes finds in theatre – which would all be fine if MacIvor had done this for some profound purpose, to make a statement about the human condition, but he doesn’t.

None of this is to suggest that In On It is some sort of empty yuk-fest. Every once in a while a moment of heart-stabbing poignancy will fly out from the bare stage and smack the viewer right between the eyes, only to have work lights come up and This and That not only argue about a shopping list, but the method of transportation they will take to get there. Like life, perhaps, things in this play are open to interpretation.

At its very core, In On It is existential yearning. Not just for joy, but that we have the good sense to know what to do with it when it comes our way. And so what if MacIvor is suggesting that life is but a joke? I guess it’s better to be in on it than out of it.