‘Tourists’ is brilliant. Here’s why.
‘Tourists’ is set in in unspecified location, made up of the Red Zone, the Blue Zone, and the Settlements. We are made aware that this is a place of varying degrees of hardship, with 1.5 million living in the Red Zone as refugees in tents and temporary housing. The protagonist, Allie played by Gayaneh Vlieghe is introduced as a 20 year-old volunteer who has signed on with a company to bus into the worst of the action in order to ‘help’.
The narrative plays out across two different timelines, as we watch Allie first in the office of the volunteering company with one of its employees, her friend Oscar played by Freddie Parsons, discussing smuggling cash in to support the projects, and then as we watch her fall in love with Dee played by Jack Firoozan, an experienced volunteer who has lived in the Settlements for six years.
Allie starts off as a character who is painfully naive to watch, holding the audience in utter disbelief as to how her character remained uncalled out. Oscar fails to truly challenge her reckless, uninformed actions and she is able to make her journey to the Settlement with her blind optimism implausibly intact. Initially it seems Dee is charmed by her positivity, which strikes us as frustrating; when he finally confronts her for her selfishness, ‘You’re having fun, and I can see it’, we as an audience are relieved.
Ancona’s writing delights the audience entirely. The gritty realism of his writing shines through beautifully, with the scenes between Allie and Dee going from comedic to melancholic in turn. The characters of Daniel (Alexander Cohen) and Emerson (Anna Birakos) added depth to the plot, with both actors portraying their roles with subtlety and nuance. Birakos’s deployment of the word ‘darling’ is cutting, as Emerson tries to make Allie see the corruption behind the volunteering scheme, and Cohen’s choice to make Daniel charmingly awkward and unfailingly cheerful led to the ending feeling all the more crushing.
The closing scene is beautifully acted. Vlieghe captures with subtle style the newly acquired jadedness of one forced to face the reality of their situation and their own capabilities, and Cohen’s glazed over expression as he looks out over the encroaching pandemonium is heartbreaking.
The production side of the show is also impressive. The tech design is intriguing, with brutal news updates projected at intervals across the back of the stage. This acts as an harsh reminder of the realities outside of the characters’ entirely subjective view of events. The sound design is also highly effective, with an ominous rumbling indicating the oncoming war and a bizarrely anonymous voiceover at the end.
Overall, this play brilliantly illustrates the flawed logic of providing ‘art supplies and denial’ in places where, as Emerson points out, people need doctors and food. Despite the heavy subject matter, Ancona manages to bring in romance and evoke a surprising number of laughs. I found this to be a truly enjoyable and thought-provoking piece of drama which I recommend to others.