Saturday, April 3, 2010

I'm So Close, WHYNOT THEATRE COMPANY, Created R. Jain, K Bugaj, T.H. Findsen. 01.04.2010

I really want to like this company: they work collaboratively; as artists they each have a varied theatre training profile (primarily LeCoq); they work outdoors as well as indoors; have things to say about multiculturalism; draw on different acting traditions in training projects; and so forth. I saw Ravi Jain's work as a director on Nicholas' Billon's Greenland last summer at Summerworks, and there was in that show real evidence of a solid capacity to help actors create sustained lines of action, compelling and subtle nuance in character, and a responsiveness to the text marked by curiosity, intelligence and wit.

That said, this is a weak show, despite some creative and competent moments throughout.

Jain begins doing what he appears to have a real aptitude for: direct address to the audience in an open and inviting way, in this case asking us how we got here which then serves as ground for continuing by setting the main thematic framwork for the show: the question of time. On one hand, Jain's work in these opening moments is clearly interesting, with a real flair for full physical engagement, isolation work in the hands and face that brings him very much alive, as well as the trained clown's ability to engender complicity. Similarly, Findsen's opening work as the anxious, overwrought, late-for-work cog in a vast late-captital communications and starbucked landscape is precise and fun.

On the other hand, we get the sense very early on that the piece is fatally derivative in terms of its thematic elements and compositional structure: the kind of mightonsesque invocation of something scientific (time, the universe, physics) that's geared to inspire a certain awe in us as we are sit in the dark and become defamiliarized from out conventional earth-bound and quotidian ways of seeing and experiencing. Maybe it's just that I've been watching a lot of BSG (Battlestar Galactica for those of you not in the know...) recently, but this hackneyed time-space-awe technique including the various images, tableaux and set-pieces used to explore it ended up feeling like watered-down Lepage without the tech to back it up, or like Théâtre Complicté lite.

The time business is complemented by Bugaj's character watching a documentary about the discovery of the bones of a neolithic couple who died in an embrace in Verona, "the city of Romeo and Juliette". This permits the juxtaposition of the decaying relationship between the business-world-travelling Findsen and Bugaj with the archeological and fossilized love of some ancient intimacy. Again, the theme is ostensibly interesting, but their theatrical delivery is not sufficiently compelling to allow the relatively surface nature of their treatment to really resonate in any lasting way.

Again, not to say that some of the work inside the piece isn't technically competent and creative: there's lots of physical play and viruosity throughout; the performers demonstrate their ability for transformation regularly; the work between Jain and Bugaj when he is the Virtual Assistant of her quasi-disappeared husband, particularly the scene where he recounts the bollywood love story, generates real intimacy and contemporary revelance.

But overall the piece is too rough and thin on the ground to really hold together. And for all the moments of viruosity, there is little magic or surprise: even the most complex and successful of the moments where the three actors are working together: a moment on the bed when they are each in their different narrative dimension yet all interacting feels more like a series of end of session outcome for the LeCoq school rather than something we can really feel connected with.

We're left with the feeling that I'm So Close is very sentimental overall: the trope of the over worked worker, the alienated bourgeois wife, the mock ads and the lypsynching—not only have we seen all of this before in many iterations, but the piece doesn't really challenge the audience to see the late-capitalist terrain that it references, one littered with exploitation and loss of memory and intimacy, in a way that would allow us to understand or feel it in a new way. Where's the rest of the LeCoq training, I was wondering throughout: the bouffon, the grotesque, the violent?

I wish this group well and look forward to seeing their next work: I think they need better and more precise scenography and lighting, but clearly this will come with time and more resources. I suspect they would profit from doing Theatre Smith-Gilmour does well, and investigate existing works of literature replete with powerful poetic resonance that they can bring their playfulness and creativity to. Despite the interventions of the talented Billon, the script is quite light.

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