At the Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto, Ont.
Written, designed, directed and performed by Robert Lepage
Composer and sound designer, Jean-Sébastien Côte
Lighting by Laurent Routhier
Image designer, Felix Fradet-Faguy
You don’t review a Robert Lepage show really. You just kneel down and kiss his shoes in adoration of his brilliance. Ok, ok, I’m laying it on a bit thick. But really… what can one say? He’s brilliant. He has such an exquisite imagination. He has control over every facet of his shows. 887 is no different.
I first saw Lepage perform 887 two years ago as part of Panamania. He brought his show back, this time to the Bluma Appel Theatre for a very short run that just closed.
887 refers to the address on Murray Ave. in Quebec City where Lepage lived as a kid with his parents and brother. 887 is about memory and the history of Quebec during Lepage’s childhood.
He says that he is having trouble with his memory. He is particularly concerned because he has to recite by heart, the stunning poem“Speak White” by Michèle Lalonde at an event. He has tried and tried but he just can’t memorize it.
But first he reveals the “large” miniature model of the apartment building he and his family lived in at 887 Murray. The building had eight apartments. He can move that model around; slide panels that reveal other parts of it; shift it around again, and reveal his own apartment today.
But back to 887 Murray. Lepage explained who lived in each apartment, indicating the idiosyncrasies of each family; who fought with whom; who was drunk; who paced; who had terrible children etc. When he pointed to an apartment, that section of the building was illuminated and a video of the occupants in miniature displayed. Masterful.
When he talked of his own family, he pointed to that apartment. He spoke with affection and compassion about his disappointed father, who drove a cab. He spoke with respect of his mother. He didn’t say much about his brother.
One is mindful of his concerns with his memory and smiles as he can recall in minute detail about his childhood and that apartment building. Ok, it’s possible—to remember details of long ago but not yesterday. That seemed to have been what was going on here.
He phoned an acquaintance he knew asking for help. He was also interested in having this acquaintance dig into the CBC (the acquaintance worked at the CBC) archives and fine the obituary the CBC has written in the event that Lepage should die. The message Lepage left on his friend’s answering machine provided a huge joke for the evening. At each turn Lepage went over the time allotted for the message and had to redial and try again. The irony and the self deprecation were obvious. Here was one of the most technologically savvy theatre artists in the world seemingly being defeated by an answering machine. Quite funny.
Lepage’s delivery of the story is calm, understated, nuanced, and leisurely paced. His memories of his father are particularly moving. But when Lepage does recite “Speak White” he is electrifying. The words come out in an angry torrent, each word snapped out for full effect. He got us to consider memory and what we remember and what we forget; consider the rage of Quebecers during the time that Lepage was growing up; and to consider what makes a genius the likes of Robert Lepage. That last bit is impossible to fathom; you just kneel down and kiss his shoes in adoration.
Presented by Canadian Stage, and Ex Machina production.
From April 7, 20017.
Closed: April 16.
Running time: 2 hours.