Sunday, September 16, 2012

Hirsch at Stratford: Theatre as public service...

I brought Ahley and Julia, my two SCLA MA students to this show on Friday evening, and had drinks afterwards with Sonia N, Doug L, and Doug's friend Livia (?), all of whom worked on the show.

A truly enjoyable piece. I initially felt Alon N's depiction of the Jewish Hungarian immigrant theatre practitioner extraordinaire to be somewhat fuzzied by some verbal delivery issues, as well as an apparently restricted 360 degree awareness, but these tendencies either subsided or became less consequential (both I think) as the collaboratively created piece with Paul Thompson progressed over the 90 minute length of its last performance of the season. The work was done essentially on an empty stage, with certain sustained elements such as the mother courage cart of an early production serving variously as a platform, puppet theatre, bed, and so forth, subtly inviting the audience to remember the constant of Hirsh's political orientations and mode of creation. Indeed, the piece itself employed a variety of alienation devices including of course multiple character transitions in one actor -- challenging the audience to recognize the contructedness of the actor's iconicity and inherently identitarian tendencies of theatrical representation in our tradition -- as well as songs, stage technicians who were incorporated into the conceit (interesting discussion with Doug there about the labour implications of this); and other approaches to keep the fictional status of the world provisional.

The piece served as a useful ethnography of Canadian theatre and its occasional discontents viewed through the biographical explorations about Hirsch, jumping back and forth through time (date and location projected on the wall), and was exceptionally candid about the back stabbing political culture of Stratford itself, even to this day, for actors and others working there. Indeed, Sonia's own experience there is a reminder of this, and her tales of the poignancy and relevance of the lines in the play about Stratford's cruelty 'to the outsider and to the exotic' to Paul and Alon's own experience there, making statements as they were about an individual whom many people at Stratford would have worked with before his death of AIDS in 1989.

The poetry of the piece was strong, the creative use of object and space and body varied and stimulating, the direct address personal cries of Alon/Paul in the text to Hirsch about how difficult and conspiracy oriented he was (there is one drama on stage and five in your office), presented a complex portrait of an ardent and difficult spirit who clearly made a significant contribution to the theatre culture of the country. That this show excavates, exhumes and generates new shoots to bring this important story to the country (it's off out west next?) serves as a significant affirmation of Hirsch's own belief in the absolute essential need for story.

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