Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Andersen Project, or


What do you expect when you go to see a play? Is it a different experience from going to see a movie, or a circus? Seeing this play is like seeing more media than we thought could be so combined. Yet to what effect?

My esteemed friend Stephen Huddart, while visiting him in Montreal and touring his wife's recently concluded gig at the National Theatre School, told me that The Andersen Project was the best play he'd ever seen. Considering how much my own plays are due to the skill and imagination of Stephen and Catherine Huddart, I bought tickets for this play as soon as they came on sale in Vancouver, last fall.

I did not know such stagecraft was possible. Frank remembered a pavilion at Vancouver's 86 Expo that had similar effects. I've always loved going to Expos for their tremulous unveiling of technology of that era, to seduce you into buying that company's product, with something resembling Art, or at least borrowing its expectations.

This was what Walt Disney lived and died for. The illusion of climbing a stair case, or taking trains, or coming forth from a tree spirit into a woman and visiting the Paris World's Fair from the Andersen story The Dryad. At no point was this not overwhelming. Like those world's fairs, this challenges anyone who thinks of marrying their ideas with technological possibilities. If only the Firesign Theatre had Lepage's millions, what stagecraft they could have altered reality with.

My friend from Lepage's Montreal was right on how this play sets the bar, if you're going to do fully funded theatre, you can't do less than this or else keep making soundless films a century after the invention of talkies. But my friend Dave Samuels was right as well, the pyramid of technology did not support this script, ie it could have done so much more with a thematically, as opposed to just a technologically advanced venture. I know Lepage had to do this story for his commission and if Andersen were alive to see it, he might rejoice in the modernization of his out of time tarried tales. This play has won shelves of awards and its numerous makers well deserve them. But one doesn't cure loneliness by identifying with the loneliness of others. Plays benefit only those who have come to play.

"I knew that this would end like a Hans Christian Andersen story, where humans who have longings and desires die, and animals have lots of children and live happily ever after" says Lepage at the plays end, as he is about to be engulfed in fire. It is a stunning theatrical moment. I felt electrocuted by its eloquence. At the same time, I wondered if my daughter Monique and her friend Kim had such eloquent thoughts as they were being blown up on May 30, 1998. Or not. Should it matter? The idea of incinerating people spectacularly is a constant desire of more film makers than is necessary to count. Good box office. Blow them all up. Lepage can provide the best words, Hollywood can produce the most scintillating flames. Everyone benefits. Except the dead.



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