Cardiac Theatre’s The Listening Room brings out all the stops in their dystopian drama
Think of the best live play you’ve seen. Now, think of the sounds that made it so. Most often, the sound design of a production—the creaks of a floor, a distant train whistle, or an echo—go subconsciously noted, in fact, when they’re more consciously noticed, there’s usually something wrong unless it’s a startle like a gunshot.
Sound design is the silent, but ever so vital element of most productions on stage. It develops your surroundings and gives your brain an idea of what to imagine just off stage.
Cardiac Theatre’s The Listening Room (by Calgary’s up-and-coming playwright Michaela Jeffery) holds a soundscape unlike any other. Talented sound designer Thomas Geddes crawls into the inner workings of your brain and delivers the sound of a dying star or a monster radio telescope adjusting position above ground overhead. Underground drips and low hums start us off, blaring near-sensory-overload interpretations progress us through, and stark silence finishes it.
This brings us to the plot you may be wondering about by now. Set in a near-distant dystopic “Third Era,” the far-out desert world of The Listening Room is ruled by an (obscure) shady government referenced as “Council” that uses the talents of a few teens to gain information and thus, power. Using 21st century radio telescopes to hear far-away disjointed messages, four teenaged “listener” anarchists (plus one hopeful) huddle in an underground bunker away from the centrally controlled “Aerie” (meaning nest or home) to decipher the broken tales of an otherwise forgotten Earth.
Next standout is the fiery performance of each listener, which does justice to their dissident mentality, each playing a distinct role in the mock family they become—the mouse, the mediator, the cynic, the slightly aloof, and the agitator. While the speculative fiction plot is at times very loosely explained, the heart of director Harley Morison’s play becomes less about how they got there, and more about what now as their fed-up familial relations regularly break down into multiple altercations as they determine the answer.
Costumes and set design also deserve a nod, with not-too-over-the-top elements of classic dystopian-esque steampunk goggles, fingerless gloves, and Doc Martens as well as more witty and out-of-the-box additions like an old digital monitor that only stores equipment and record-shaped slips that are physically written, or recorded upon. Mountains of cable connecting soundboards and metal boxes of equipment hold your attention in the incandescent-lighted corrugated sheet metal bunker the listeners call home. The evolution—and implied apocalyptic destruction—of tech plays a subtle role in the set design that makes one question our heavy reliance on digital technology today.
Cardiac Theatre’s The Listening Room reminds us of the entrenched nature of humanity and society, which even survive mass apocalyptic destruction. But distant hope is a driving theme, and in the end, it leaves us tragically pondering ‘What now?’
Until Sun., Jan. 28 (8 pm & 2 pm Sunday matinee)
The Listening Room
ATB Financial Arts Barns
$19 – $22