Fringe 1 – The Courier

*Warning: May contain spoilers  Last night our discussion group, which was rather sparse, went to see our first Fringe play.  Our choice was the The Courier, by local playwright, Vern Thiessen.  The little hook that appears in the Fringe program is as follows:

Spring 1945: occupied Czechoslovakia. David Dyck, a young courier in Hitler’s army, must decide whether to open a restricted letter and face the truth, or remain ignorant and face death.

This is a play you should go and see if you have the opportunity, if for no other reason than to catch the performance of Toby Hughes as David Dyck.  From beginning to end Hughes holds the audiences attention as the confused young soldier.  It is hard to do a one person play, and even harder to make the time fly when you are doing it, but Hughes does it with ease.

I like to deal with technical aspects before going into the story, so high marks for the set.  The Rory Runnels theatre is a small room on the fifth floor of the Artspace building at 100 Arthur street.  The seating was mainly in an L-shape around the performance area.  The set consisted of a desk and chair and a cot set up against the wall.  There were black curtains over the windows.  There was German music of the era being played before the show and at points in the show.  I found the bits of music in the show a little distraction as it was intended to be in the distance but sounded more like it might be radio interference from another room instead.

The play is set in the early days of 1945, and we are introduced to Dyck, a courier in the German army who is rapidly becoming unhinged.  He informs the audience that he is a courier, but not just any courier, he is the most important and most trusted courier in his unit.

Yet, almost from the beginning, we get the impression that all is not as it seems.  There is a great deal of naivete surrounding Dyck.  It is as if he doesn’t really understand that there is a war going on, and that it is going rather badly for the German army at that time.

He sits down to write a letter to his father, but after a few lines of platitudes, crumples the paper up and throws it away.  Much of the rest of the play seems to be a rehearsal of what he would like to write, but never does.  We discover as the play goes along that Dyck is a Mennonite.  His family has been resettled in Poland after having been in Siberia as a result of persecution under Stalin.  Dyck has joined the German army in the belief that it will help him escape such a fate, and allow him to control his own destiny.  Now, he is a valued courier, proof that he is smarter than his family.  Or is he?For it seems, in the process of making these choices Dyck has lost his identity.  Further, he has in his possession a letter that, along with the orders he is being given, is increasingly taking on ominous connotations for him.

This is where the set plays such a major role, as it gives the barracks a sense of being a prison, reflecting on Dyck’s state of mind as he tries to understand what is going on around him.

Tied up with this is Dyck’s relationship with his commandant Mueller. For all Mueller supposedly relies on Dyck, Mueller holds him in very low regard, Dyck’s Russian Mennonite roots playing a significant role in this dismissal.  This is reinforced by the series of errands Dyck is sent on which he narrates while he waits at his barracks for Mueller’s return.

During these errands he is mistreated and mocked by another German officer as well as by Mueller’s wife.  All the while, there is this envelope, which remains sitting on the desk, openly mocking Dyck with its secret contents.  As the play progresses Dyck’s increasing paranoia and curiousity push him towards opening the letter, while his fear of punishment and sense of loyalty as a soldier prevent him from doing so.

In the end, paranoia and curiousity win out, and Dyck opens the letter only to make the most shocking of discoveries.  His naivete drops away and he is finally spurred to a response, which brings the play to its conclusion.

On the whole the play was quite engrossing.  In both Dyck and Mueller, (who is never seen), we have two characters who seem to be fooling themselves as to how significant they are.  Mueller almost seems to need to be able to put down Dyck so as to be able to convince himself of his own significance, yet in the end, Mueller may be the less powerful of the two, as he can only follow the orders given to him.

Yet, as we were discussing the play afterwards, something seemed to be missing.  We couldn’t quite put our fingers on it, but mainly it felt that the storyline wrapped up a little to quickly.  The conclusion certainly isn’t neat and tidy, and yet it seems we want to know a little bit more about the motivation behind Dyck’s final decision.

Perhaps it’s just the sense that he moves too quickly from a man of inaction to a man of action.  For me, it’s the fact that his decision doesn’t seem to be connected in any way with a discovery of his own identity.  In a play where it appears that nobody really has any self-identity, Dyck’s discovery of one, would serve well to set him apart from the other characters he describes during the play. My only quibble with the acting also came at the end, where Dyck leaves humming a tune.  It was so quiet that I couldn’t make it out and was left wondering if there was some significance to the tune itself.

Nonetheless, this play should definitely be seen.  Perhaps if you see it and reach different conclusion you could include them in the comment section below.

Give this one 4/5.



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