Review: 40 DAYS AND 40 NIGHTS

by Lynn on April 28, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

l-r: Daniel Brooks, Kim Collier
Photo: Kyle Purcell


At the Theatre Centre, Toronto, Ont.

Created and performed by Daniel Brook and Kim Collier

Consulting director and dramaturg, Jennifer Tarver

Composition and sound by Andrew Creeggan

Additional composition and sound by Debashis Sinha

Designer, Ken Mackenzie

A beautifully designed production with ceremonial, symbolic moments in which Daniel Brooks and Kim Collier discourse, examine, and philosophize on love that ultimately reduces  the whole event into pretentious twaddle. 

The Story. Theatre creators Daniel Brooks and Kim Collier are a couple in love. They are so fascinated by the whole notion of love they went on a spiritual quest to India to explore, question, examine and delve into the idea and philosophy of love, armed with the poetry of Persian poet Hafez, the writings of French philosopher Alain Badiou and questions: what do you think about when you think about love? What is the nature of love? How does one talk about love?  The challenge was to live for 40 days and 40 nights making all choices based on love.

The Production.  There are instructions for the audience posted outside the Franco Boni Theatre where this event takes place. We are to enter the dark space, find a mat onto which we put our shoes, coats, purses and anything else we will not need during the performance. We are then instructed to find the bell to ‘ring’ to announcing our entering the performance space, and then we sit in one of the chairs around the space. This is a bit tricky for one with not perfect-eyesight. There are dark curtains surrounding the whole playing space with a dimly lighted opening in the curtains.  Only when I hear the ‘gong’ of the bell do I realize that a person (Kim Collier) dressed in a bathrobe, is standing in the dimly lighted area, smiling, holding the gong to tap the bell suspended above the opening. That done we find a seat.

Scenographer, Ken Mackenzie has created a beautiful space. The black curtains around the space give one the sense of being in a cocooned tent. There are two huge, vibrant Persian rugs on the floor. A circle of glasses containing clear liquid are on one of the rugs. There are vibrant coloured pillows that  will be scattered on the rugs. Up from that is a bench and behind that is a table on which are lit candles (?) bowls of powders, pitchers and other props that will be used for the performance.

Daniel Brooks, also in a bathrobe, asks people in one row to pick a number and he then reads a poem in the book by Hafez corresponding to the number. When everybody has entered the space, Kim Collier beckons us to pick up a glass and drink the liquid then put the glass back on the rug. She brings a glass to those people reluctant to pick up a glass. While still standing, Daniel Brooks reads out questions: “If you have fallen in love within the last 40 days, sit down. If you have been with your lover for 40 years, sit down.” Questions of that sort are asked until everyone is seated.

Brooks and Collier exchange ideas about love; they reference the poems of Hafez; they discourse on French philosopher Alain Badiou in minute, detailed examination of love; they have a section that seems to be a ‘lightening round’ of ‘profound ideas’  of love, with Brooks and Collier conveying a sense of self-satisfaction at the cleverness of the idea.

We are each given a tray on which is a neatly folded maroon cloth napkin on which is a piece of chalk. There is also a small light to switch on and off later, and a few small flowers.

The audience is often engaged to answer questions regarding love; to write comments with the chalk on the floor about love, to experience the pain of love.

There are moments of exquisite tenderness between Daniel Brooks and Kim Collier: fingers delicately touching, a caress of the face, a committed hug. They speak in quiet tones. She is engaging, generous. He is soft-spoken, a bit methodical in his ‘performance’, a touch smug. Andrew Creeggan’s lilting ethereal music plays almost throughout: tinkling piano, beautifully melodic, atmospherically gorgeous.  The lighting is also beautifully moody, warm cocooning—I assume Ken Mackenzie has created the lighting as well since he is listed as “designer and no one is listed separately as “lighting designer.”

There is a whole sense of the various components to the ‘event’, being ceremonial, symbolic, ritualistic etc. (the drinking of the glass of liquid, experiencing pain, taking off of shoes).

Comment. Audiences are so giving, so accommodating, so eager to engage in an event to make it work. They unquestioningly take off shoes to enter the space, gong a bell to announce their presence, drink glasses of liquid, answer questions, ask them, engage fully, without question.

I wonder what is the meaning of taking off one’s shoes, or the symbolism of the bell ringing, or the pouring of hot water on a mound of something that dissolves while Collier in the back, unseen, reveals the unraveling of love over years between a couple. Collier and Brooks give no hints about the meanings and surely such information would deepen the experience.

Towards the very end of the performance Kim Collier forms a circle with sand in the middle of the playing space. We are invited to throw the flowers on our trays into the sand as an offering to love.

Then something fascinating happens. The music that has been playing for the whole performance stops.  Collier calls out softly to the back asking an unseen person/stage manager? if the music has run out, if the computer has crashed. She asks if they can go back to the previous cue. She wants that music. She says it’s so beautiful. A soft voice from the back says, “we’ll try.”  One wise man in the audience close to me whispers almost inaudibly, “can’t we imagine it (the music)?” (exactly, I think). Anxious moments pass. Collier asks towards the back  how they are doing. Daniel Brooks says quietly from one corner of the space, “Four people are working on it. One of them has degrees.” And I think, “That isn’t very loving of you Mr. Brooks.”

The music miraculously comes on, lilting loveliness. People toss their flowers into the circle and quietly leave the space. But the mood is broken and the truth is clear. For all the meaningful philosophy and the poetry readings and the discourse between these two loving theatre makers, 40 Days and 40 Nights is all show and it’s pretentious. Something as indescribable, as intoxicating as love has been so examined here, so minutely philosophized that the heart and soul of this vibrant subject is rendered lifeless. And so is this self-indulgent, navel gaze of a show.

Co-produced by Necessary Angel Theatre Company, Electric Company Theatre and The Theatre Centre.

Opened: April 27, 2018.

Closes: May 6, 2018.

Running Time: 90 minutes.

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