Alas, the Tricklock Revolutions International Theatre Festival
has wrapped up another year and we must simply wait until next January. But they saved the best for last.
was truly one of the most magical, memorable productions I have seen in a very long time. Few companies so deftly use sound, movement, lighting and acting to draw us into an alternate universe as RedtoBlue Performance from Edmonton, Canada, does with this play. Sound designer Matt Wadell has as much to do with creating this world as the actors. If you're kicking yourself for missing it, you should.
The story is based on the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice
, but this time it's the woman who descends to the underworld to find her lost lover. Philistine is a bibliophile whose entire life revolves around books to the extent that she anthropomorphizes them and we get the sense they're more human to her than actual people. That is, until she meets George. (Given that context, I still can't figure out her name, since a Philistine is someone who is anti-intellectual and boorish.Is it meant to be ironic? Is Philistine ignorant in other ways, perhaps in regards to human relationships?)
George is an astronomer who comes from a valley that was in perpetual twilight, which made for great stargazing. Their courtship is carried out mostly through movement, running, laughing and drawing constellations on the stage with chalk since George predicts that one day that's where they will be together -- as One.
We learn all this in hindsight after Philistine has been dropped to the depths of the ocean and into the entrance to the underworld, where she meets Charon
. In Greek mythology, he was the ferryman who carried the souls of the newly departed across the river Acheron separating the worlds of the living and the dead. Here, he oversees a vast library of memories on vinyl records and he is a cranky and dismissive bureaucrat. Keith Wyatt has the character down cold.
However, he finds himself drawn to Philistine's story because it is still unfinished. That disturbs the order of his world. Philistine finds out George has drowned at sea. She decides to follow him into the underworld, even though she can never come back. It's a truly frightening journey. She is pulled along, tumbling over and over, on a huge cloth dragged across the stage by demonic creatures from the underworld and tormented by them once there.
She is rescued, sort of, by Elishiva, a frightening queen (perhaps Persephone
?) whose voice is electronically modulated to contain both male and female tones. (I was reminded of "The Exorcist"). She explains to Philistine that they move the souls of the departed along by convincing them to let go of whatever treasure they clutch tightly. In George's case, he must let go of his love for Philistine. It's heartbreaking as she cries for him not to leave her, pulling in desperation on the red ribbon spooling out from his shirt. Amber Borotsik's performance is complex and multi-layered, capturing us from the moment she drops into Charon's room. She moves quite believably from her sunny existence among her books and life with George to the depths of despair.
She is left alone with the book he left her that contains his voice and she realizes they are still joined as one, even after death. She is absorbed into the light shining from the book and we watch a constellation gradually appear and take the shape of what the couple drew on the stage earlier with chalk.
As the lights dimmed, it felt as if the entire audience was holding its collective breath.
I almost regretted combining this with Tricklock's production of "Catgut Strung Violin"
because I wanted to sit and absorb "One" for several hours. However, I also found Catgut to be wildly inventive, funny and also quite moving. It takes place nowhere and everywhere, in any war you care to name. The opening scene is particularly arresting since the three actors stand with black hoods over their heads, reacting with fear to a variety of combat noises. The parallels to Guantanamo Bay and the most famous Abu Ghraib photo
Then they completely throw us off by breaking into song, complete with jazz hands and dance steps. That pretty much sets the tone for the evening, vacillating between high satire and moments of intense sadness.
Kevin Elder, Tricklock's co-artistic director, plays hapless Anton, an Everyman
who is basically impressed into the army by unscrupulous officers. His most important possession is his violin, which he carries into battle, even capturing it as he parachutes through the air. Elder's range of facial expressions are simply wonderful as he portrays a naive and sheltered boy encountering the horrors of war.
There is little dialog, with most of the action needing few words to convey what is happening. All three actors do a fantastic job, with Alex Knight and Charles Gamble jumping between characters at lightning speed. The physical comedy is brilliant. Knight drew impromptu applause for a rapid fire bit where he played an enemy soldier who has captured Anton and proceeds to "talk" furiously (or pantomime talking), drink copiously and smoke until he falls asleep.
The scene where Gamble shoots the opposing soldier as he sleeps and the effect it has on Anton is incredibly powerful. It reminds us just how much can be conveyed without words. In good absurdist fashion, Anton ends up a general simply because he's the one who didn't get shot and he's lauded as a hero. But we also return to the haunting images of hooded men in the end.
Although Revolutions is over for the year, Tricklock does go on. Member Juli Hendren will premier her one-woman play "Waste Her"
on Feb. 25. She gave a taste of the production at last year's Revolutions when it was still in development and frankly, I've been waiting 12 months to see how it turns out.