Review: Cabaret brise-jour

by Lynn on March 27, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

Cabaret brise-jour

At the Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen Street, Toronto. Created by L’orchestre d’hommes-orchestres. Based on the music of Kurt Weill and texts by Maxwell Anderson, Bertolt Brecht, Robert Desnos, Jacques Deval, Ira Gershwin, Ogden Nash. Sound designed by Frédéric Auger. Lighting by Philippe Lessard-Drolet. Performed by: Bruno Bouchard, Gabrielle Bouthillier, Jasmin Cloutier, Simon Drouin, Simon Elmaleh, Lyne Goulet, Danya Ortmann, Philippe Lessard-Drolet.

Plays at the Theatre Centre until March 29.

An unsmiling woman sits on the stage full of stuff—an old piano without the cover for the keys, chairs, one of them a miniature like a child’s chair, a ‘love-seat’, a double bass over there, standing microphones, a guitar, a trombone, drums, a phone, lamps and a ‘chandelier’, part of which is a circle of turkey-baster. A motley group of men and woman wander on to the stage, sit and stare out, a woman carries a sabre and wipes it along her dress. A lamp is turned on by one of them. And turned off by someone else.  Someone rings a tiny bell (the kind the gentry used to summon servants) to start the show.  The original woman on stage, comes towards a microphone and says that before the end of the show she would like to sing the last song.

Welcome to the loopy, irreverent, witty, ironic, staggeringly creative world of Quebec’s L’orchestre d’hommes-orchestres and their latest creation, Cabaret brise-jour. In a previous show they celebrated the work of Tom Waits. This time the music of Kurt Weill gets their attention.

It’s immediately clear that this will not be an interpretation of Weill’s songs (“To War”, “Die Ballade von der Höllen-Lili,” “Oh Heavenly Salvation,” “The Trouble with Women” i.e.)  mainly because you can’t actually hear them. The musicians and singers are so amplified in their singing-playing that the actual words and even the melodies are drowned out. This is deliberate.

The company presents the songs creating Weill’s iconoclastic world between 1928-1949 by infusing his music with the iconoclastic musical movements of today–rap, hip hop, punk rock, rock and roll etc. And did I hear echoes of Janis Joplin when one of the male singers, wearing a woman’s slip, bellowed  “Will You Remember Me” into the microphone, his hands on the back of his hips, head shaking, like Joplin did.

When they play an ordinary instrument—the piano, a guitar, a violin—it’s the exception. More often than not the company will create instruments out of ordinary stuff. Those turkey-basters will be squeezed in an order producing bell-like music.  A contraption with the wooden structures around which leather is formed to make shoes, is rotated creating a percussive beat. Even the two weighted ends of a dumbbell are banged to produce sounds. A woman wears a necklace with a harmonica at its centre. A man approaches her, holds her tight and furiously plays the harmonica around her neck. It looks like he’s kissing her passionately and she’s enjoying it enormously, until the song ends and they become unsmiling again. A phone rings. A man picks it up, holds the receiver then slams it down. The phone rings again. He picks it up and slams it down. The sequence repeats itself more quickly. Soon the ringing of the phone and the slamming of the receiver form a part of the larger orchestration of the song. You shake your head in disbelieving delight.

L’orchestre d’hommes-orchestres was awarded the City of Toronto Glenn Gould Protégé Prize by the Glenn Gould Prize Laureate Robert Lepage—who knows a thing or two about being an iconoclast. They deserve it.  They produce intoxicating theatre that is irreverent, eye-poppingly inventive, and brilliantly performed. It’s for people who like their theatre challenging, raw, wickedly funny, dazzling in its creation and performed by a company of fearless artists. Don’t pass this chance to see them.

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