by Lynn on November 12, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Conceived and directed by Jacquie PA Thomas
Written by Michael Spence with the Ensemble
And contributions by Kat Sandler
Set by Michael Spence
Costumes by Melanie McNeill
Lighting and projections by Laird MacDonald
Sound by John Gzowski
Cast: Patrick Howarth
Pam Patel
Michelle Polak
Michael Spence

A play about greed and avarice by the physically inventive Theatre Gargantua, but the script is too sprawling and not focused enough. The result is confusing.

The Story. The ensemble researched greed, avarice and the disproportionate divide between those fabulously wealthy and the larger numbers who are poor. They used as their model the greed and wealth that built Antilia, the most expensive, largest private house in the world. It cost $1 billion (US), is 26 double stories high and overlooks a slum in Mumbai. It was built using graft, bribes, mendacity and corruption.

The story is described as a fable. It is set in the fictional town of Antilla. The richest, most powerful man lives in his fortress of 26 floors and rules his world from there. He controls the economy he is so powerful. His assistant is devoted to him and perhaps in love with him. His mother lives there too and is concerned about her son and what is happening outside. The house overlooks the most wretched poverty. People are starving. A man below eats an ear of corn that he grew. He has the secret of curing starvation in that ear of corn.

The Production. As with all Theatre Gargantua productions, it is intensely physical, using a combination of dance and gymnastics. Music and sound factor heavily as does technology, video, animation etc. The stage is full of stacks and stacks of card board boxes. They represent the accumulation of stuff the wretchedly rich man has accumulated. Many of the boxes have never been open. Accumulation is more important than usefulness.

The cast of four charges out in movement/dance formations, stretching on the floor with their arms stretched behind them. They are in perfect unison. They are energetic, flipping and gliding from one end of the stage to the other. I have no idea what the significance is. Beginning a show with confusion and knitted eyebrows is not a good move, it seems to me.

Great use is made of varying sized Pilates exercise balls. The cast stretch on them; flip over them; toss them. They do the same with the boxes which are shifted, tossed, thrown and heaved into various configurations. Sometimes the towers of boxes keep growing upward.

Jacquie PA Thomas’s direction is forceful, vivid in its images and in constant motion. Michael Spence’s set of the boxes and the Pilates balls is also impressive. John Gzowski’s sound scape is compelling as he always is. The cast is totally committed and so suited for this physical kind of theatre.

I just had a terrible time with the script. While the movement is compelling and goes at break-neck speed, I found the script by Michael Spence with the Ensemble and a contribution by Kat Sandler, to be confusing, unfocused and muddy in its intent. Perhaps it is all that activity going on that might have pulled focus. The rich man is unhappy even though he can acquire anything he wants in all shapes, sizes and colours, needing none of it, of course. He gets his jollies controlling the economy single-handedly. His fortress is finally ‘broken into’ by the meek, innocent and outraged outside world, but again I found it murky as to how that would affect him and his greed.

Comment. Director Jacquie PA Thomas says in her director’s note that in the research the group discovered that “85 people hold more wealth than half the world’s population” and cited the billionaire who used his power and money to bribe officials, steamroll over laws and illegally destroyed an orphanage to built his house. One can’t criticize the production because it references a universally recognized corrupt situation that allows such flagrant flaunting of the law, and not reference something closer to home; something more recognizable. I think a better script would have been helpful. While I like the work of Theatre Gargantua, this one missed for me.

Presented by Theatre Gargantua.

Opened: Nov. 5, 2015.
Closes: Nov. 21, 2015.
Cast: 4; 2 men, 2 women.
Running Time: 90 minutes approx.

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