From the Cult: The Great Debate was the weirdest play I’ve ever had to review

From the Cult is The Ubyssey’s unofficial AMS Election coverage. If you want real news, go over to the news section.

As The Ubyssey’s fourth or fifth most esteemed reviewer of theatre, when I was asked to cover The Great Debate, I went last Friday expecting to see another fine on-campus play. Something that would stimulate the mind and exercise the soul, as all good theatre should do. Instead, I saw… I don’t know, really. An experimental, site-specific devised piece? A bunch of people talking about assorted things for some reason? I’ll try to explain it as best as I can.

Firstly, the play was staged in the lower level of the Nest. This was a very, very odd choice. The actors had to speak into microphones in order to be heard over the sound of all the people in the Nest not paying attention to them, and the sun kept getting in my eyes. Most of the performers, it seemed, had never used a microphone in their entire lives before the show, and all the natural light was distracting because it made looking at my phone quite difficult.

Onto the show itself: It wasn’t a story so much as a collective rambling session. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, plenty of theatre works outside of traditional storytelling structures, but these shows can pull it off because they’re actually entertaining. I believe the premise for this one was a kind of student union debate? Between fits of boredom I was able to hear snippets of dialogue from the performers, for the most part badly-written and confusing. Ninety per cent of what they said could have been cut without effecting much. Some lines that stood out to me include:

“I am running to fight for the student experience ... which has been affected, here.”

“This was a historic moment in student history.”

“I fully support students unionizing,” said a character running for president of a student union.

A few of the performers seemed to not have their lines fully memorized, reading dialogue off of laptops. With what they had to work with, I don’t blame them.

The only characters with any real chemistry between them were Max Holmes and Dylan Braam.

The second-biggest gripe I had with this play was the message — I still don’t know what the piece was trying to say. Was it commenting on the futility of debate? “Debate” is in the title, and the whole thing was certainly futile. Or discussing fake news? At one point, the moderator fact-checked a statement that one of the performers made, and that performer fact-checked the fact check. The performer wasn’t talking into their mic, though, so I believe they were just doing some improv for some reason. Or was it something entirely different?

One of the debate scenes had, like, nine people crammed into one long table, in the most pointless reference to “The Last Supper” I’ve ever seen.

The biggest gripe I had, however, was that it was over four hours long. I couldn’t bring myself to sit through the whole thing, not just because of the unpadded, plastic chair. Two hours in, when I thought we were finally done, I was horrified to learn that it was just intermission so I left anyway.

Overall, it was okay I guess. Three out of five stars.