by Lynn on November 20, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Theatre Passe Muraille, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Michael Gordon Spence.

Directed by Jacquie P.A. Thomas

Set by Michael Gordon Spence

Lighting and projections by Laird MacDonald

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Costumes by Sarah Delignies

Cast: Olivia Croft

Teiya Kasahara

François MacDonald

Michael Gordon Spence

Theatre Gargantua has been creating compelling, provocative multi-disciplinary, physical theatre since 1992. They begin with a subject to explore which is always socially relevant, apply a concept to present it and then distill and focus on it through rehearsals and questioning for two years before they present it.

This year the company presents The Wager which explores the thorny world of misinformation. Never before have we had so much information at our fingertips through social media etc. and therefore access to more misinformation as well. Misinformation is readily available on the internet etc. A trick is how to sift through all this stuff for the truth. What interests Theatre Gargantua with The Wager are the people who don’t believe the facts no matter how many facts with which they are presented.

From the programme: “Why people believe strange things, from the relatively benign flat-earthers to the outright dangerous climate-change deniers, anti-vaxxers and fact altering politicians, is the conundrum that initiated our current artistic endeavour. The true story of Alfred Russel Wallace and his ill-advised wager with flat-earthers served as an irresistible allegory for our exploration. “

With the cast playing musical instruments, using the simplest of props—ladders are the prop of favour for this show—projections, and a bracing physicality, the cast presents their thesis.

In 1870 Alfred Russel Wallace, the renowned biogeographer and the co-creator of the theory of evolution with Charles Darwin, accepted a £500 wager from John Hampden. Mr. Hampden, wealthy and a flat-earth believer, wagered that money to any scientist to prove the earth was round. Wallace thought it would be easy. With a ladder and a telescope and calculations he presented his findings. All Hampden needed to do was climb the ladder and look through the telescope. He refused. He said that he knew what he believed and nobody was going to change his mind. That stunned Wallace. (By the way: In Jacquie P.A. Thomas and Michael Gordon Spence’s Artistic Director’s note they spell Russell (as in Alfred Russell Wallace with two l’s. Various sources on the internet spell it with one l. I checked various places—of course they could all be copying the spelling from one source to another, but I don’t think so. “Russel” it is).

Hampden’s second was asked to look through the telescope. That person did take a look but could not ‘see’ what Wallace had pointed out proving his theory that the earth was round. More shock and confusion. In the end Wallace won the wager but Hampden spent the rest of his life bedeviling Wallace, almost ruining him. Wallace was none too good with finances (according to the internet—yes, I checked there).

Theatre Gargantua explores the debunked theory that vaccinations cause autism. The doctor who came up with this bogus theory was discredited but parents still refused to have their children vaccinated sometimes with disastrous results.

To many intelligent people climate change is a gigantic hoax, a conspiracy theory.  The growing number of people who chose to ignore the facts, or are not curious about the truth or another side of the story and are close-minded is alarming. According to the company at Theatre Gargantua these beliefs “not only defy logic but could be threatening our existence on the planet. The stakes could not be higher.” Agreed.

But here’s my concern with The Wager? Why do these nay-sayers deserve a production, or investigation or more than a nano-second of query? As soon as Hampden said nothing would change his mind about the earth being flat that was the end of the argument. If people want to ignore the science about vaccinations being useful in eradicating disease or the devastating existence of climate change, that is the end of the argument. To continue to try and change this blinkered way of thinking is the real stupidity. I don’t get the sense that Theatre Gargantua is looking deeper than the concern that nay-sayers defy logic and they are getting larger in number. T’was ever thus. So?

An unattributed quote from Facebook: “In life it is important to know when to stop arguing with people and simply let them be wrong.”

Michael Gordon Spence’s text is thoughtful, well-written and intriguing. I do query the inclusion of a speech by a character who says she is unimportant but that she is calling out a man who is accomplished, notable and a leader in society as someone who obviously did her some kind of (sexual) injury, one assumes.  She must speak up about it. I don’t think this item is appropriate in a show about scientific facts and nay-sayers. Conspicuous by its absence is any comment on the scientific proof of homosexuality vs the erroneous thought that it’s a lifestyle choice. I thought that absence interesting too. I am glad I saw this production, as I always am with this company. It got me thinking past their thesis. I just wish I knew why they created a show about people who don’t deserve one.

Change does not happen because of nay-sayers. Change happens when informed people or even one person says, “no, this is wrong and here’s the proof. You don’t want to believe it without thinking? Get out of my face. I/we have a world to save.” Who knows, if one let’s ones imagination run wild one can imagine that climate change awareness will get a universal boost from—I don’t know—a 16 year old kid from say, Sweden who (let me go out on a limb here) has Asperger’s Syndrome. Now that would be something.

Theatre Gargantual presents:

Opened: Nov. 15, 2019.

Closes: Nov. 30, 2019.

Running Time: 80 minutes, approx.

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