by Shelley Molad · August 21, 2014
The Road to Odessa. The title of this show, as an outline for a plot, intrigued me. Then the description about loneliness and a mail order bride piqued my interest further. I recalled that movie Birthday Girl where Nicole Kidman stars as a Russian mail order bride, and I wondered what Australian performer Cameron McKenzie might have to say about the topic.
At the start of the show, Cameron sits in the dark with his back to us, and there is a projection screen in front of him that looks somewhat distorted. There are a couple of indistinct people, who seem to be eating, drinking and socializing, but nothing is audible. The walls are white, and it looks like we are looking into an apartment or home of some sort. Cameron with his back still to us, moves his head from left to right which alters the image on the projection, as though it is coming from his perspective, like a virtual reality game. I waited patiently for something to happen, but the distorted image of people inaudibly socializing continued for what seemed like too long. I tried to focus my attention on the projection, and then there was suddenly a live drawing, on the projected wall, outlining a woman, and I was immediately drawn in.
Before I could figure out the relevance of the drawing, Cameron removed the virtual reality headset and jumped up on stage and introduced himself and began telling a disjointed story about a time he meant to tell a girl he loved her at a Toronto train station, but the train doors shut too soon. The story sounded familiar, like it was out of some romantic comedy with Cameron McKenzie as the quirky, offbeat hero. In this romantic comedy's plot, Cameron McKenzie never got the chance to tell his dream girl how he really felt and instead sought out a mail order bride. Sounds entertaining, right?
After much back story, which included lovely crepe breakfasts with the lost love, the story veered to what I had been anxiously waiting for: Cameron's trip to Odessa to select a mail order bride...but it turned out that the road to Odessa was briefly traveled because Cameron decided it was a bad idea. Which is noble, I'll say. But an ultimate let down in terms of the story Cameron built up for us.
Instead of a romantic comedy or play, The Road to Odessa felt like a standup comedy routine. And I thought that Cameron McKenzie was, for the most part, funny and charming with unpredictable punch lines, in the way you'd hope a comic to be. But when he stopped to show us a virtual, video-game like simulation of him doing mundane activities like chopping carrots, I laughed because it was irreverent but wondered what was the point? However, when Cameron described his Skype chats with Anna, the mail order bride from Ukraine, I was interested and wished that Cameron had used the projector to simulate what THAT was like.
Feeling so depressed and lonely from a failed love that a man decides to get a mail order bride is a compelling story, but the story I saw on stage was a continuous retelling of a missed opportunity for Cameron to express his love to the girl that got away. And while I sympathized with Cameron for losing his love, I also got tired of listening to him talk about a girl that he should have just called up!
The best part of the show was when Cameron personified the train carrying his lost love and metaphorically compared the train to life; Cameron was animated and dynamic when recreating the train's New York accent. Aside from his stories feeling disjointed and randomly placed, I thought Cameron McKenzie had a strong stage presence and has the ingredients for a strong romantic comedy that could use a bit more direction and a better use of projections, literally and metaphorically.