At the Storefront Theatre, 955 Bloor St. W. Written by Alec Toller and the company, based on “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad. Directed by Alec Toller. Costumes by Hanna Puley. Lighting by Melissa Joakim. Starring: Joshua Browne, Mikaela Dyke, Kat Letwin, Colin Munch.
Plays at the Storefront Theatre 955 Bloor St. W., until April 6.
“Heart of Darkness” is Joseph Conrad’s short but notable 1899 novel. It has been translated; adapted, televised, filmed (the most notable is Apocalypse Now) and given the documentary treatment.
The latest version is called Dark Matter adapted by the actors and director of Circlesnake Productions. One can see the appeal of Conrad’s novel. The story is rich in themes of the powerful vs. the weak; the rich vs. the poor; colonialism vs. slavery; the effects of isolation. At its centre is a long and arduous journey down the Congo, taken by a steamboat captain and ivory transporter named Marlow, into unknown territory to find a mysterious man named Kurtz.
In the various adaptations the location has changed from the Congo to Viet Nam (for Apocalypse Now). But Dark Matter just might be the most ‘out there’ adaptation. This version takes place in outer space. Marlow is now a woman captain of a space ship sent into space to find Kurtz, a rogue member of the company that both Marlow and Kurtz work for. Kurtz has settled in a far reaching area and been there, literally in isolation for 10 years. There are rumours that Kurtz is mad; or brutalizing the people there with him. Marlow has to either bring him back or terminate him. She is accompanied by her ‘companion’ Cal, a robot in female form whom Marlow considers her best friend. And also on the voyage is Burke, a company employee we are told is there to check up on Marlow.
The same themes are here as in the original and certainly the aspect of space travel adds a kind fantasy aspect to the voyage. But I found the physical production of creating the idea of space travel so complex in its choreography and direction, that it overwhelmed the production. While there are only two props, two folding bridge chairs, the whole physical layout of the space ship is created in actors miming pressing buttons, separating doors, walking through the doors, turning to close the doors, walking down corridors, turning left, then right, then skipping over three or more steps at a certain point, the negotiating other parts of the spaceship. And then there was the complex miming of suiting up for going outside the ship. And on and on. Dark Matter should be either a film or a television show. As I said Alec Toller’s ‘choreography-direction’ is intricate but ultimately it overpowers the dialogue.
It’s interesting that in this adaptation it’s not too big of a deal for a woman to be a captain of a space-ship, so bravo for that. As Marlow, Kat Letwin is earnest, controlled in her emotions in very emotional situations, quick thinking, and matter of fact when solving problems. As Burke, Colin Munch tends to swallow words when he speaks so quickly. I like the mystery of why he is on this voyage but the revelations of the truth seems a bit tenuous. Mikaela Dyke as Cal is properly monotoned, cold-smiling and robot-humanlike. The problem is that Ms Dyke also plays other characters who are not robots and her delivery is flat without variation, which is a bit of a concern. As the manipulative, powerful Kurtz Joshua Browne certainly looks striking, with his bald head and piercing stare. His quirky speech, esoteric in its musings, poetic at times, opaque at times. Is this the speech of a person who has gone mad? And interesting thought. I wonder if it would be a better script if only one person, and a writer at that, actually wrote it, rather than a collaborative effort of the company.
Hanna Puley’s costumes of black t-shirts, black combat pants and boots, with occasional parts of the gear that illuminate, is effective in creating that functional world always on the verge of combat.
I can certainly appreciate doing theatre on a shoestring, but the fact that there was no program on the second night of the run, was maddening.