Review of Conte D’amour

by Lynn on April 2, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

Conte D’amour

At the Fleck Dance Theatre. Created by Markus Öhrn, Institutet + Nya Rampen. Directed, designed, video creation and photo by Markus Öhrn. Costumes by Pia Aleborg. Text by Anders Carlsson Light. Starring: Jakob Öhrman, Elmer Bäck, RasmusSlätis, Anders Carlsson.

Produced by Worldstage at Harbourfront April 1, 2, 4, 5 at 8 pm. 416-973-4000

There are some interesting ideas buried under the three hours of mess of the self-indulgent bloat that is Conte D’amour now at the Fleck Dance Theatre at Harbourfront.

It’s best to let the program explain their intention first and then detail how it doesn’t work. From the program: “A man with a bathrobe (briefs) and socks is sitting in his living room playing with life-size dolls. Then he climbs into the basement. There, a man dressed in woman’s clothes receives him with tender loving care. She turns out to be his daughter who lives in the basement and takes care of the two sons they have together. They welcome him, “We love you Daddy”.

This daddy rules his own family, just like any good patriarch, true to the motto, “Home, sweet home!” He goes to work and brings home food. Daughter-mother, in a union of personhood, stays at home and takes care of the little ones.

A picture-perfect family is shown on two screens, visibly becoming a caricature of itself. Daddy repeats himself in ape-like threatening gestures, everyone lapses into apathetic patters of movement, suddenly one of the sons whispers, perfectly intoned, “Love will tear us apart” into the camera. “

And from the World Stage brochure: “What it shows us above all is an extreme, the extreme of romantic love, which is one of the great ideologies of our time…it is an ordinary tale.” (Markus Öhr)…in which the collective “…produced the image of a frighteningly familiar monster—the one in the nightmarish figures of Josef Fritzl (who kept his daughter captive in his basement for 20 + years raping her repeatedly resulting in a child) and Ariel Castro (who kidnapped three teens and kept them captive for 10 years raping and torturing them)

The word to describe all this explanation of the collective’s intent is “drivel.” Or “wishful thinking”, which are two words. No matter how esoteric, metaphoric or symbolic the production, there has got to be a recognizable establishment of relationships to even suggest that those people are related; that the daughter/mother takes care of the little ones and that they love each other. That is totally not the case here with Markus Öhrn’s direction. The characters in the basement whisping out “We love you Daddy” doesn’t mean they are in fact related. That’s just accepting the statement at face value, when the actions and behaviour of the characters suggest otherwise.

The behaviour of the man in woman’s clothes and makeup does not suggest the ‘tender loving care’ of a daughter.  It suggests a coy, sexual plaything totally in synch with the sexual game playing. She rarely gets off the sofa and her interactions with the other two men in the basement is practically nil.  The interactions of all four characters also suggests an elaborate consensual sexual sado-masochistic game involving all of them. To equate this with the horrors of what happened to Fritzl’s or Castro’s victims is a cruel misrepresentation. To suggest this is romantic love in the extreme, is to have a warped idea of what romantic love is. This is about cruelty, manipulation, brutality, sexual games-playing with no application to anything they want to accomplish.

The set is impressive. A huge square structure sits in the middle of the stage. It is covered in opaque plastic as if it’s covering building materials from a construction site. Above it is an apartment with a fern plant, a couch on which is a man in his bathrobe and briefs and socks. He sits on either side of three life sized puppets. A looping video of a man in a pristine white jump suit making cement and using it for building blocks, plays on the audience left wall of the theatre as we wait for the production to begin. When the lights go up on the man sitting above the plastic-wrapped structure, he strokes the hair of one puppet, throws around another and fiddles with the third.

Rock music plays while he goes into the basement. The opaque plastic on the front of the cube is illuminated. We see hazy figures on the other side of the plastic. At the same time the two screens above the cube show the videos of what is happening in the basement. One screen shows close-ups of the four characters as one of the characters videotapes the others. The four characters will alternate using the video machine. On the other screen is a videoed overview of the action in the whole room. There appear to be several stationary videos in the room in order to accomplish this.

Over the three interminable hours the characters will video each other singing—the man in drag has a terrific voice (no actor is actually associated with a named character)—wolfing down MacDonald’s Big Macs, fries etc; a bag of potato chips, Coca Cola; beating each other up; putting on a full head-face mask of a black man and then beating up the wearer while mouthing racial slurs and smearing a Big Mac over his head.

There is an extended scene of the man in briefs making ape sounds, beating his chest, stomping his feet and exhausting himself and us in the bargain. In a moment in which everyone seems to get serious, the man in drag comes towards one of the video camera and gives it-us ‘the finger.’ Same to you, buddy. In the end, after the four men come out of the room and stand on stage in full view they all sing a song about love. And at last the show ends.

In true Canadian fashion many rise to their feet shouting and clapping. But them something wonderful happens. One lone, loud voice boos. Twice. How refreshing.

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1 JKelly April 2, 2014 at 5:20 pm

Thanks for the kind review of my boo, Lynn.