Writer: Carl Djerassi
Director: Andy Jordan
Reviewer: Deborah Klayman
The Public Reviews Rating:
When a play has been penned by an award-winning scientist, you would be forgiven for expecting an impenetrable piece full of weighty ideas inaccessible to the usual theatre-going audience. This, however, could not be further from the truth as Carl Djerassi’s Insufficiency is both light and funny whilst also managing to be instructive and entertaining. The story unfolds in two time frames – that of a court room where the central character is on trial, and through flashback scenes from the University where he has been a professor for the past four years. Both these situations are peopled by well-drawn characters who are skilfully portrayed as the piece examines professional rivalries through deft dialogue and amusing exchanges.
A ‘whodunnit’ of sorts, Karen Archer’s prosecutor sets the scene and introduces the jury (the audience) to the facts of the case as she sees it. A brilliant but difficult man, Jerzy Krzyz (Jerry) is attempting to secure a tenured position at an American University – something that was promised to him when he emigrated from his native Poland. Self-assured to the point of pomposity he has successfully gathered extensive corporate sponsorship from a Champagne company to pursue his work on Bubbleology, the science of bubbles. This financial success, coupled with his reticence to publish any of his work and the seeming frivolity of his chosen subject, has his colleagues in an envious lather which is standing in the way of the permanent post he so dearly wants. Attempting to get his own back Jerry attempts a practical joke, but the comic effect has deadly consequences and he soon finds himself in the dock.
For the most part, this play is a delight – cleverly written and with enough drama in the interpersonal politics for the flashback scenes to stand as a play in their own right. Tim Dutton is truly superb as Jerry, a proud man who refuses to play the game and as a result falls foul of the ‘publish or perish’ pitfall of the scientific community, while Walter Van Dyk gives a sterling performance as his long-suffering head of department. Where the play falls down is in the use of the court room scenes, an entirely unnecessary conceit that breaks the flow of the frankly more interesting main plot. The stakes are not high enough and the charge of First Degree Murder unbelievable, despite Archer’s probing performance. Because of this the final scenes lacked punch, and the piece somewhat petered out to a fairly predictable close. In spite of this however, the piece is tremendously watchable and the relationships believable and compelling, so although the formula is not perfect this is still a production that is full of chemistry.