2015 Edmonton Fringe review: Rigby Muldoon: Time Traveller for Hire

Rigby Muldoon: Time Traveller for Hire is a new original work about a time traveling "detective" and the case that he takes to save the world.

A good high energy romp with a couple of strong performances and an admittedly impressive pair of sequences, the work suffers mainly due to the dialogue. The plotting and action scenes are all crafted very well, making the weakness really stand out. Still, it's an entertaining and engaging work that really plays well to it's time travel aspects.

Annie Sinclair (Carina Morton) is looking to hire a time traveler named Rigby Muldoon. His bookmarmish secretary McGill (Laena Anderson) is collecting the details of the case, making special mention of the pay-up requirement. In the first of many nods to the paradoxes of time travel, it's explained to Annie that if Rigby Muldoon goes back in time and fixes her problem, then present-day Annie won't have known the consequences and therefore refused to pay up, which hints that there's a hilarious "Young Rigby Muldoon" adventure where he risks life and limb to change the past only to find his client refuses to pay him because Hitler Who? Annie balks at this, and is kicked out of Muldoon's office. The secretary advises Annie to "go to the bar down the street" in what seems like a "piss off" moment made slightly more surreal when Annie actually does this and kicks off the plot. Rigby Muldoon (Joshua Lee Coss) decides to take her case, which involves going back to the year 1995 and...

...no, wait, he's changed his mind again. You see, time travel only goes back a year or so. You can go back and change your vote in the Alberta election, but you can't make Grant Notley a more forceful personal voice for abortions-on-demand. This restriction is similar to the one in The Dead Past, an Issac Asimov story discussed on my blog in 2009, and Muldoon apologizes but he cannot take Annie's case. He's about to bid her farewell when the bartender is revealed to be a time agent with a sinister government agency (S.P.I.R.I.T.T.) who tries to apprehend them, meaning that this case must be bigger than Annie has let on (or, perhaps, knows).

Fortunately, hey remember that you can't travel to 1995 that was just brought up five minutes ago? Nevermind! Rigby has also cleverly modified the time agent's technology and actually possesses the only time travel device in the world that can take you more than a couple years back. This comes out as a little too convenient for our characters, and seeing how Annie Sinclair's character is a cellphone app programmer, and seeing how this skill of hers will literally come into play later in the story, it's a shame that this wasn't used earlier on to make a more plausible result. After all, the characters (as they lampshade) have all the time in the world: Muldoon visits a hotel that has an "hourly" room that keeps its inhabitants in a time loop away from the inside world.

It's in here that we learn the plot. Earlier we've been cutting to clips from Annie's past as a teenager, playing videogames with her nerdy best friend Ryan (Robyn Slack). As they play videogames together they finally act on the attraction they've been denying all this time, gettin' it on and progressing to the next level of Mario all at the same time. Unfortunately, as they become young adults Annie wants to do more than sit on the prairies playing Sega. She wants to move to the coast, take computer programming courses, and have a career. But Ryan decides to stay behind, and ever since Annie moved she's been finding herself pining more for the past she left in Saskatchewan (and, she hates the smell of the ocean). She had, in another bizarrely amazing coincidence, one of the world's most expensive Pog's, which in the 90s she sold for $19,000 that financed her pursuit of dreams. If Rigby can steal that pog from her past self, she can't go to the coast, will stay with Ryan, and have the happy ever after romance that has been missing from her underachieving life.

The emotional aspects of the Annie role is where Morton's skill really lies: while she's passable as a videogame loving teenager, decent enough at a Linda Hamilton-esque on the run fugitive character, and less than impressive as a Took a Level in Badass world-saver at the end. But in these scenes where she harkens to the love she once had and a certainty that it was what she needed in this world, she absolutely nailed the performances. She's that right mix of determined and hopeful and mournful and naive, and along with the later phone call to Ryan is her best work in the entire play. By contrast, Joshua Lee Coss has a rather steady performance: playing Muldoon in the tough film noir gumshoe style with a voice that occasionally goes too Christian Bale, it means as long as he stays in character it will be a steady and strong but not particularly impressive turn. That's just how a character like that works, unfortunately. He's mainly the plot driver and action guy, so that's okay. Definitely more than okay is Robyn Slack, who absolutely nails almost every role he's in (excepting Ryan, oddly enough), particularly time agent Hinkley. His range is rather impressive, and really helps to sell the differing characters he plays (only Morton plays a single character throughout, though Coss only plays Muldoon and Muldoon's alternate-history double). This does unfortunately contrast with Laena Anderson's tendency to play her characters as over-the-top archetypes who also happen to be relatively androgenic. It's awfully hard to invest in her characters like we can with Slack's. Each of his is clearly a different person and almost seems each to be in a different work entirely, all thrown into this one and given the keys to the time machine as it were.

As for the time travel, the time agents have also figured out a way to follow Muldoon into 1996 on the tech that even he didn't seem to know he had until just before the plot required him to remember about it. For some reason Annie got there first, and Muldoon has to track her down at the lasertag place (which is a nice piece of '90s kitsch). After defeating the final lasertag boss (Muldoon faces off against two preteens who shout out his characterization in a partially funny and partially lazy moment that could have driven home Muldoon plot points if they hadn't already been driven) they are able to retrieve the--oh, sorry. The makers of this play cringed for a second thinking I might miss complimenting one of the highlights of the play: Slack dressed in a giant robot dinosaur costume to play the lasertag "final boss". He had lights all over his body, a great costume design, convincing robot dinosaur movements (well, in theory at least), and worked really really well. Gold star for that one, surely. They manage to retrieve the pog but the timecops catch them and bring them to S.P.I.R.I.T.T. headquarters. Unfortunately, they've confiscated Muldoon's amazing futuretech and are going to use it to rule the world. This is a chance for the Joker/Loki/Silva/Khan style "caught on purpose" trope that will eventually lead to the highlights to this work.

There's a scene that I need to tell you about. It's a single scene worth the price of admission. If you get a ticket a the discount tent then it's worth the price of two admissions. It's really that good. We have two heros (Muldoon and Annie) and two villains (the two timecops) are fighting over the future of the world. There are two guns, each of which causes a person to freeze in stone when hit by them and then unfrozen when hit again. One hero and one villain each have a gun. There's your setup. You can probably imagine what happens next from my description, as all four characters run around and the guns are continually firing: Muldoon will shoot Agent Hinkley and the androgynous agent will shoot him to unfreeze him, and also shoot Annie but then Muldoon will shoot Annie to unfreeze her as she snatches the gun from Muldoon's hand as the androgynous agent freezes Muldoon and so on and so forth. What results is an amazingly well choreographed and engaging action scene, all the more impressive by the skill the actors all demonstrate in the execution. Each of the guns makes a noise when fired, but it's the same noise for both guns. It makes sense in a story perspective, but must have made the task exponentially more challenging to the actors, since many of the shots were made outside the actor's field of view. Yet without fail the actor the gun was pointed at started or stopped their motion the moment they heard the sound of the gun going off. It was really really amazing, featuring by far the most movement in the play (a brief seen with Muldoon brawling earlier, and the lasertag dinosaur battle is all else there was) and leads to the high tech and time-bending conclusion.

There are several good time-travelling gags and plot elements worked into this play, and most of them are well executed. It's nice to see a piece of work willing to work with the potential given in its source material. There's some really strong performances as mentioned earlier (and, though I don't want to give away too much, Annie's phone call near the end was very powerful stuff), and a solid story that keeps you moving. There are a few bits that could be improved, but a good technical performance really helps steal the show here.

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