Comic Potential showcases striking set design and effective changes in tone

Culture Events Theatre
Photo by Dean Kalyan

In the near future, actors have been replaced by life-like androids called “actoids.” Instead of acting, they follow their programming and can literally be paused. On the set of an endless soap opera, actoid JCF-31333 begins to laugh at random intervals. While dismissed as a glitch, aspiring writer Adam discovers that there might be more to “Jacie Triplethree” than meets the eye. Together with his idol, a washed up former movie director, they attempt to get a TV pilot greenlit despite the executives’ reluctance to do so, and Adam finds himself developing feelings for Jacie. Will the show get greenlit? Will true love prevail? Tune in to find out!

As always, the set design of Comic Potential is one of the standouts of a Phoenix production. There were gasps from the audience as a massive wall descended from the ceiling to represent the front of a hotel. Combined with smart lighting and subtle sound design, that polish makes the entire production pop. For example, there’s a window at the back of the set that can change colour and also shrink and grow depending on the scene. It can go from a blue sunny day to a sunset in the span of a scene transition. The creative team as a whole did a great job — seeing the play is worth it just to see what they can do.

When it comes to pacing, the second act is definitely the stronger of the two. Not only are the characters put in a variety of different situations which leads to more comedic scenes, the stakes are raised as Jacie and Adam are forced to examine their relationship a bit more. The character of Jacie is explored more deeply in the second act and actress Una Rekić shines as she struggles with what Jacie really wants to do. And the play doesn’t hide from the fact that Jacie is a robot, and is built to follow people’s instructions, and what that means in a romantic relationship.

Speaking of the changes in tone, the switches from dramatic and comedic never feel forced. The dramatic tone arrives in just the right place for the characters, and is usually preceded by a line of dialogue which gives the character a moment to stew in thought. The same is true for the switch back to comedy. Everything fits the world and the characters, and those more serious moments are truly earned.

Everyone gives their all in this production. The comedic tone is one of over-the-top British humour with some performances to match. Not to mention, there’s a lot of busy action on stage with a lot of people. In the first act, there are scenes with the paused actoids in the background, and the director and his assistants in the foreground. Sometimes, Jacie will be watching the humans carefully before snapping back to “sleep mode.” There’s always something going on and it’s engaging to watch. Plus, there’s a bit of a “meta” element watching the characters explaining the fundamentals of comedy and acting.

There are a few performances that are a little quiet overall and can be difficult to hear. Sometimes, when a lot of people are talking at once, it’s hard to make out who’s speaking depending on where you sit in the theatre. Compared to some of the more bombastic performances, some characters end up fading into the background.

Comic Potential is a great production with a fantastic level of polish. If you’re looking for a romantic sci-fi comedy this February, head on down to the Phoenix. 

Comic Potential runs until Feb. 22 at the Phoenix Theatre.