Sunday, July 1, 2012

Luminato, the Iffy and the Great

I got back to Toronto from my NY/Montreal trip for the Luminato Festival. I saw two works. The first was La Belle et la Bête: A Contemporary Retelling, created and directed by Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon.

It played at the Bluma Appel Theatre, so I walked there. I wish I'd kept walking. I was really intrigued by the subject matter and what I'd read about the production. Three actors worked against a clever backdrop with stunning projections, both still and moving. What I'd seen in pictures was compelling.

The weak point was the actual script. It was, as advertised in the title, an updating of the story. I didn't mind the ugliness or the violence, as that is part of life, and very much a part of this fable. My problem was I didn't buy any of the redemptive ideas of love, or even that there was a kind of love. The message was incohesive. It was earnest, overly philosophical and convoluted.

The lesser problem was the balance between the actors. Diane D'Aquila (as a sort of chorus/muse), one of Canada's finest actresses, was powerful and charismatic, but - to paraphrase a movie review I read decades ago - her effort was like an Everest in in a Sahara. I don't blame the other two actors but they had zero chemistry, and I suspect that the man, in particular, a French-speaking actor, could not deal with the ryhthms and emphases of English. His interactions with the other actress were devoid of... anything really. I stress, I don't believe this was the actors' faults. What I do blame is the material and the directors' choices.

Ninety minutes lasted an eternity.

The next show was three hours, with no intermission. It could have gone on for three days. I was blown away yet again by the genius that is Robert Lepage. Again, I walked to the theatre (lucky girl). But this time my walk lasted five minutes. I would have walked five hours for this show.

It's called Playing Cards 1: Spades... well, you can tell by the title that we have three more parts to come. I will try my best to see all of them.

Set in Las Vegas and the desert outside Las Vegas, and - I think - at the beginning, Baghdad, it told the stories of a slew of different characters, all battling their demons as they resist - or don't resist - a persona who surely was the Devil.

Unlike La Belle et la Bête, the actors for whom English wasn't their first language were superb in English. I don't know what the difference was, but there wasn't a false moment. And, get this, all the characters (I don't recall how many) were played by just six performers. One character in particular, a gambling-addicted, class-concious, middle-aged Englishman, made me think of Lane, in Mad Men. The vicious seargent and his sexual abuse of the gay soldier made me remember an elderly friend of mine and the story he told me of his youth as a cadet in the British navy, and how it was an older gay man who protected him from the twisted sexual intimidation of a straight senior officer. The Mexican chambermaid recalled a hard-working woman I know, one who makes me marvel at her strength and drive to provide all she can for her three children. All the characters were unforgettable. I'm thinking of them still.

Like all great art, it made me think beyond the characters and the many stories, each of which was told like a little gem. This piece took me places I didn't expect to go, made me remember things, imagine things, dream of things, that were unrelated to what was happening on stage. And Lepage, in his brilliance, let it all happen at an unrushed pace. I would watch it again. I hope you get a chance to!

There was much more in Luminato's excellent line up this year and I wish I could have seen more.

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