by Lynn on May 9, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Factory Theatre. Written, performed and lighting by Itai Erdal. Directed by James Long. Sound by Emelia Symington Fedy. Original composition by Andrea Young. Projection design by Jamie Nesbitt.

At Factory Theatre until May 13.

Itai Erdal emigrated to Canada from Israel in 1999 planning to be a documentary film maker. He became a theatre lighting designer instead because there were more jobs in the theatre than in film, although the pay was lousy.

Sometime after he arrived in Canada he learned that his mother had lung cancer and only had nine months to live. He rushed back to Israel to be with her. She decided he should make a documentary film of her last nine months, and so he began filming her, asking her questions, and in a way learning about his mother.

How to Disappear Completely in part is about Erdal’s mother, her struggles, and the family’s efforts to cope. It is also about Erdal’s efforts and hopes to find the right woman and have children. And also it’s a bit of a tutorial about various theatre lights, their lighting effects and Erdal’s favourite lights.

The lights go down to black to cue us the show is beginning. A voice out of the dark says that actors feel that they only have a sense of being present when they are lit. Pause. Then laughter. More talk in the dark. (Why does the word ‘pretentious’ spring to mind?) The lights finally come up to reveal Itai Erdal holding a rectangular flat keyboard it seems—with a click here and there, the lights change. He is running the lights as he performs the show. He tells us that he has broken all of the Ten Commandments. One knits one’s eyebrows at this. Laughter, but in fact he might be telling the truth we realize at the end of the show..

He moves a curtain at the back to reveal a screen on which is projected his film of his mother—smiling, on a beach, answering his questions with a touch of sarcasm. A cigarette always in her fingers (!). She looks healthy but she does have cancer. As her story progresses there are more scenes of Erdal’s mother, this time interviewed by his sister. Again there is that cigarette and direct, forthright answers. No she isn’t in pain but she doesn’t feel ‘right’. Her husband (her second) refuses to believe she is dying. He shaves her head after her chemo begins—a very touching section of film. There are filmed sections of Erdal’s best friend. There are filmed segments of his mother near the end, in the hospital.

His mother is not the focus of How to Disappear Completely. Much of it is Erdal talking about how theatre lighting is so interesting to him. There are various demonstrations of various lights. He talks about his best friend a lot. He shows film of his sister.

Erdal is very personable. Self assured, cocky perhaps with a good sense of the intriguing moment. He tells us that he has been told he’s a good story teller. Unfortunately that does not necessarily mean he is a good theatre story-teller.

Much of this production is tell and not show. He tells his mother on film of his drastic solution to her problem but then leaves us ‘in the dark’ about what that was or how he was going to put that into effect. In what we think might be leading to the touching conclusion of the production, he abruptly interrupts himself to show us one more bit of film with his sister and his take on what that means. (Why does the word ‘pretentious’ spring to mind?) The show doesn’t conclude so much as stops. Again the audience sits in the dark not knowing if this is the end or not, until one brave soul begins the applause. (Why does the word….oh, you know!)

Much of the show is a mishmash of things—is it about his dying mother? Is it about his tutorial about lighting? Is it about his great times with his friend? The whole effect seems unfocused—a real slight to a lighting designer. Erdal has left out so much information that would have been illuminating to his story. I shouldn’t have to read about it in the press information. It should be in his show and it isn’t. Nice lighting though.

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ken Gass May 9, 2012 at 7:50 pm

I think you really missed much of the point of the show. So of course, where you lack critical insight, you resort to ever-ready glibness. Even re the end of the show. (You might have also mentioned the spontaneous full standing ovation that followed.)

This is a show that could have so easily failed, as there are so many obvious traps of sentimentality and personal emotions attached to ‘home movies’, but Erdal disarms our expecations and provides astonishing, well-calibrated objective illuminations on the complex arc of family relationships and friendships so that we are forced to think and observe, as well as respond to the universalities of death and loss and so forth. James Long’s skillful and experienced directing is clearly a major part of the show’s success. I bought the production based on a 25-minute excerpt I’d seen, so was also nervous when it arrived, but the show completely surpassed my expectations. I think the work is complex, intellectualy engaging and in the simplest way, ultimately very moving. I’m thrilled the show is here, as it fits so perfectly in the mandate of Performance Spring.


2 March 23, 2013 at 7:53 pm

Very nice post. I simply stumbled upon your blog and wished to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your
blog posts. In any case I will be subscribing in your feed and
I’m hoping you write once more soon!