Thursday, February 4, 2010

The White Cabin, AKHE Theatre Group (Russia), Theatre Centre, Toronto, 30.01.10

This piece is a deluge of creative effluent, light, and rot that variously washes over the audience throughout the course of a meandering evening, one that invites its audience into a number of discreet and explosively imaginative spaces.

The piece begins with a woman watching images on a small screen and an old projector as the theatre fills up with incense and smoke, with these environmental factors foreshadowing the feats of sensuality to come. The woman walks downstage through the thick goopy smoke, sits on a chair, and faces back upstage to watch the emergence from the penumbra of two clownlike characters: white squares of facepaint, round hats with burning incense sticks, tattered clothing referencing aristocratic as much as the serf tradition. They soon encumber the space with lines of string, pour wine over each other, litter the place with newspaper unwinding from a body previously covered in it, then crucify the woman—whose elegant dress we now see is quite tattered—to her chair before 'freeing' her into this difficult space marked by a strange and questionable dynamic between the three performers that always seems to have the woman on the losing end of the match. The evening progresses with an eventual move to a space of interlaced screens featuring increasingly larger square windows the further upstage they are placed, resulting in a rich projection environment.

The piece is ultimately unsatisfying for a variety of reasons: the relationships do not evolve or change between the characters; the notion of this being a 'physical theatre company' is misleading as the technical virtusoity of the male performers (who have art school backgrounds) leaves quite a bit to be desired; the environments created are sometimes not fully explored before being abandoned for no particular reason for the next one; a number of the introduced devices, like lights put inside mouths, are not really exploited; etc.

The whole thing left me kind of adrift at points.

Where this piece does excel is in the power of its rambunctious and seemingly effortless ability to present dozens if not hundreds of evocative and poetic images, sometimes in such a rapid succession that we are left happily overwhelmed by this eventful slurry: that's when the piece is luminous and transportive, through the dramaturgy of alluvial overload.

Is it retrograde of me to say that work like this—as with that of Castelluci, Foreman's Ontological Hysteric Theatre, or some of Forced Entertainment, etc—really needs some more traditional dramaturgical intervention? One gets the feeling of visual/performance artists wanting to have the temporal/narrative framework of an evening of theatre (why else have it start at 8pm in a theatr?), but don't really have the skills to keep our attention...

But hey, these guys are roly-poly-cigar-smoking-hard-scrappin'-liquor-spittin' Russians who've rustled a cute young actress into touring the world with them, and the Toronto theatre scene is SUCH a sucker for foreigners and role playing what it would mean to be a real mensch, so, hope you got to see this show and be a scenester too.

See a 10 minute highlight reel @:

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