March 3, 2007
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SJP


'What Lies Before Us' a bleak comedy
By Pat St. Germain - Sun Media


What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

WINNIPEG - A feeble-minded British imperialist is stricken with rabies, syphilis, pubic pests and a fatal case of hubris in Morris Panych's bleak comedy What Lies Before Us. Which is lucky for audiences at MTC Warehouse, where the fabulously irritating Keating (Matthew MacFadzean) cheerily shares his misery until mid-March.

The play is set in the Rocky Mountains, where a railroad survey team is lost in 1884. It opens with Keating noisily scraping food out of a rusty tin can, loudly sucking his teeth and frantically scratching his infested nether regions, much to the annoyance of surveyor Ambrose (David Storch) -- a silver-tongued atheist Scot who spends most of the play firing off eloquent insults and delivering hilariously astute, if crabby, social, religious and philosophical observations.

When the breast-obsessed Keating picks up his guitar and begins composing a song about a lady named Melinda, trying to rhyme her name with window, Ambrose suggests he exchange the word window for door -- because it rhymes with whore.


Enter Wing (Wayne Sujo), a Chinese cook who silently suffers Keating's absurdly demeaning offences but who has a friendly, albeit subservient, relationship with Ambrose. Abandoned by their wilderness guide, the trio are trapped in limbo while they await rescue from their boss. While Keating and Ambrose argue over what to do, Wing has no say in his fate, although he does have the last word in the play -- in a Chinese dialect.

The men become hopelessly entrenched when an avalanche boxes them in. While the eternally optimistic Keating remains jolly well certain that his vague plan -- which is to form a strategy, making him prime CEO material a century before his time -- will result in freedom, it's glaringly apparent to Ambrose that they are completely unable to move forward or backward and must resign themselves to their fate.

And that fate is truly awful. Ambrose suffers from gangrene and Keating has paralysis, although he doesn't believe it -- "I can't feel a thing."

At one point, Keating hallucinates, dreaming he's in a play that won't end -- we assume Panych collects on a bet every time the line is used in a review. And What Lies Before Us does sag slightly as it nears the finish line. But, hey, it's a short journey -- and we laughed most of the way.
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