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REVIEW: UVic drama department shows a flair for comedy

Student actors have fun with artificial intelligence in Alan Ayckbourn’s Comic Potential
Adam Trainsmith (Ciaran Volke), who discovers that although android Jacie Triplethree (Una Rekic) can use language she never learned to read, teaches her the Bible in a hotel room. Comic Potential , Alan Ayckbourn’s wickedly funny satire on the rise of artificial intelligence runs until Feb. 22 at the Phoenix Theatre. Photo by Dean Kalyan

There’s a lot of information to process in the opening act of the UVic Department of Theatre’s Comic Potential, the Alan Ayckbourn-written comedy in a 10-day run at the Phoenix Theatre.

With various characters coming and going, it pays to read up a little on the story line first to get a head start on the premise.

In a nutshell, it centres around a more-human-than-not android TV actor – she and her acting counterparts are collectively referred to as “actoids” – whose programming somehow prompts her to go off-script and laugh involuntarily. Her person-ality leads to a wide variety of comedic interactions and relationships with other characters and the story builds from there.

Actoid Jacie Triplethree (Una Rekic) is plugged in for analysis to determine what programming glitch makes her laugh hysterically onset of the daytime TV hospital soap opera. Photo by Dean Kalyan

Una Rekic is instantly likeable as the actoid Jacie Triplethree (a name derived from her product number), who shows a good-natured ability to have fun and interact intelligently with humans, despite her android makeup. Throughout the play, Rekic skilfully shifts gears, performing melodramatic lines that Jacie has stored in her memory banks from past roles, which come out rather randomly and add to the character’s appeal.

In the role of the eventual male lead Adam Trainsmith, Ciaran Volke does well playing the eager-to-please nephew of the wealthy network owner. As the story unfolds, Adam’s passion for film and writing emerge, as does his increasing willingness to treat Jacie as not only an actor with true comic potential, but as a human with the potential to love him back.

The first act ends with a flourish when Trainsmith and Jacie, whose developing professional relationship has become more “person-al,” find themselves together alone in the studio. When Jacie says she’d like to dance – she has a program for that, too – Rekic and Volke perform an outstanding swing routine.

RELATED: ‘Actoids’ hit the stage at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre in February

Act 1 truly lays the groundwork for Act 2, when Trainsmith and Jacie escape to a hotel, with stops at a dress shop and a fancy restaurant – comparisons to Pygmalion or My Fair Lady here are natural.

A memorable scene happens at dinner, when Jacie’s internal liquid storage system fills up. Adam volunteers to go “under the hood” to surreptitiously remove her full container and the result is hilariously spiced with sexual innuendo.

Among supporting cast members, Carter Gulseth is convincing as former big-time film director Chandler Tate, now relegated to overseeing actoid daytime TV productions. He adeptly portrays Tate’s transformation from a jaded individual who wistfully recalls past days of glory and his deep understanding of comedy, to someone whose inspiration is rekindled through the spunk and energy of Jacie and the professional commitment of Trainsmith.

Sarah Hunsberger gives a solid performance as social-climbing regional director Carla Pepperbloom, whose over-the-top and impatient character provides a perfect foil for the creative folks in the story.

While this Conrad Alexandrowicz-directed play takes some time to get going and for the story line to develop, the journey proved satisyfying, thanks to impressive primary and supporting performances.

Comic Potential runs through Feb. 22 at the Phoenix Theatre at UVic. Showtimes are 8 p.m., plus a 2 p.m. matinee runs Feb. 22. There is no show Sunday or Monday. Tickets are available online at

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