U’s look at global warming is a little too big for its own good

‘Behold the shape of comedy,” says Clinton Carew, a bespectacled
television host at the top of U: The Comedy of Global Warming. The U is that
shape: a standard work of fiction progresses down a tumultuous path towards
catastrophe, until some 11th-hour counteraction occurs, sending us back
towards a happily ever after.

It’s a story structure that’s pretty inherently ingrained into our
culture, and now writer/director Ian Leung wants us to apply it to the very
real debate about climate change. Do so and it gets a little more worrisome:
if cataclysm hits, no clever writer gets to turn it around with a deus ex
machina or clever plot twist. So maybe we shouldn’t wait for one before we
turn around, or maybe we’ll be fine after all. But isn’t it better to be
green than sorry?

That’s just the tip of U’s (melting) iceberg message, an allegorical
narrative woven through a dizzying patchwork of song, dance, interview,
audience interactions and videos that get deep into the climate change
discussion. It’s clever and, in its best moments, pretty much earns the
phrase—and I mean this in the best possible way—”edutainment.”
It’s also big—a bit too big for its own good.

Writer-director Ian Leung’s overall goal seems pretty clear here: to
attack the global warming debate from all sides, not just waving the green
flag, and keep the whole show engaging and punchy. To do so, he’s paired the
content with unusual forms of delivery: a lounge-singer sing-a-long defense
by Mr. Oil walks the clever line of satire with sleazy charm. Elsewhere, like
a spiritedly-performed-but-kind-of-cheesy hip-hop number or metal-concert
shout out to the issue, don’t fare as well in deliver as they might have in
concept. The points are clear, but the delivery method seems tacked on, an
unconventional pairing of form and content for the sake of an unconventional
pairing, to shock in that regard. There’s also an unnecessary meta moment
near the end of U, which softens what would’ve been a particularly poignant
point to end on.

That said, even if the method doesn’t always work, the actors seem more
than capable with wide spectrum of material they work through.
Each of U’s three characters—the green, environmental TV host Clinton
Carew (Garett Spelliscy); wealthy, Tycoonish businessman Albert A. Oil
(Clinton Carew; it’s never really explained why his name is shared by
Spelliscy’s character) and the caught-in-the-middle refugee Tivo (Tim
Hamaguchi)—get tangled up in a troubled love triangle (though it’s
spread a little thin with so much else going on), but whether within the
narrative or one of the countless vignettes, they’re vibrant and engaging
onstage with all of the material.
The multimedia touches are usually well done, save a few technical hiccups:
Interview segments are often used to transition between scenes, but sometimes
characters watch what you watch on their TV, discussing as it goes. The
interviews themselves are interesting, and at times hilariously un-P.C.

There were good ideas in U that didn’t seem to play out as well as they
might have: an improvised dinner party scene, in particular, drew one member
of the audience onto the stage to get a direct opinion on climate change, but
the scene took far too long to not really achieve what it set out to do.
Maybe on another night—though Saturday’s audience participant certainly
wasn’t stage-shy, the actors didn’t seem to be comfortable really getting any
deeper than a quick surface level conversation.

So U makes its points, and broaches the climate change debate in new and
innovative ways, but you tend to have to pick the finest moments out and hold
onto them as the sheer volume of scenes becomes apparent—really, with
extended versions of the show’s interviews and even more environmental
content on U’s sister website, probably more could’ve been
left out of the show and stuck up on the web, for those curious enough to
follow up on the show. After all, there’s only so much of one debate you can
squeeze into a show without losing the audience. U doesn’t quite do that, but
at points it comes close. V

Until Sun, Dec 20 (8 pm)
U: The Comedy of Global Warming
Written & Directed by Ian Leung
Starring Clinton Carew, Tim Hamaguchi, Garett Spelliscy, Cole Humeny,
Melissa Thingelstad
Media Room, Fine Arts Building
(88 Ave – 112 st), $15 – $20

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