Review: SPECULATION, part of FOLDA

by Lynn on June 14, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

I watched this on Demand after the showing at FOLDA,

Creator, artistic director, producer, writer, performer (violin, monologue), Leslie Ting

Pianist, Hye Won Cecilia Lee

Deaf performer (monologue), Thurga Kanagasckarampillai

Co-director, dramaturg, voice coach, Alex Bulmer

Co-director, dramaturg, Tristan R. Whiston

Lighting designer, Patrick Lavender

Projection design, Amelia Scott

Audio engineer, Kai Masaoka

Videographer, Roger Galvez

From the show blurb: “Speculation takes the audience through the stages of grief, vision loss and silence. The music of Beethoven and John Cage, and experimental projections accompany an immersive storytelling of the artist Leslie Ting’s witnessing of her mother’s vision loss and eventual passing.”

There is so much going on in this digitally impressive, busy production. Leslie Ting has divided the work into four parts with such provocative titles as: Part 1, “Reasons for Communication” Part 2 “Impossible to Say”, Part 3 “All That Held Me Back”, Part 4 “Around Our Words.” She  tells us at the very beginning that she and her mother did not get along. Her mother was stubborn, everything had to be her way and she never listened to her daughter or considered her point of view. A stubbornness formed on both sides so that conversation was brief and resentment was long. Towards the end of the piece Ting realized something about her mother that might have explained some of her behaviour.

Leslie Ting’s mother began losing her eyesight in early 2000. Her mother had several operations in one year, took many medications but eventually her mother became blind. Ting was studying to be an optometrist at the time that seems more coincidental rather than seeming helpful to her mother. Ting eventually transitioned from optometry to studying music. She is now a violinist.

Ting also included Beethoven’s loss of hearing in Speculation in which Beethoven continued to compose music but gave up touring as a pianist. Beethoven also seemed to isolate himself because he could not communicate with his friends etc. (They took to shouting even while he used an ear trumpet with little effect). This has less to do with her mother’s loss of sight than it has to do with Beethoven’s determination to create music no matter what. But it is an interesting inclusion.

Ting also includes composer John Cage in her piece as a person who felt that harmony was not relevant in his music. Again, an interesting inclusion.

Ting played pieces by Beethoven and Cage during the Speculation. Physically she is a muscular, energetic player but facially she is expressionless. When she was not playing Ting sat in a chair, light billowing from the sides (kudos to designer Patrick Lavender), and told the story in an unmodulated voice, but initially with a hint of an edge when talking about her mother. Again, her face was expressionless. I found that lack of engagement odd, if not disconcerting. Rather than engaging the audience her lack of expression, both facially and vocally, distanced the audience because of her lack of emotion. Even when Ting told us her mother died in 2010 there was a pause in the delivery, but no physical indication of any emotion.  If this was a deliberate decision by her co-directors, Alex Bulmer (who is herself blind) and Tristan R. Whiston then I don’t think it worked for the piece.

There is a part of Speculation in which Cage’s composition, 4’33 is played—it’s 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence except for ambient sound; breathing, echoes, breezes, scraping and occasionally a woman saying “Are you serious?” During the piece Ting stood holding her violin and when the woman could be heard saying, “Are you serious?” Ting smiled. Hmmm.

Technologically Speculation is very busy. There are projections (Amelia Scott) that are blurry to suggest her mother’s diminishing vision; there are streams of bright projections and coloured effects suggesting what will be lost by the loss of sight.  There was a scene of pianist Hye Won Cecilia Lee playing presumably Beethoven’s piano sonatas (I say presumably because there is no actual list of the music played) and all we saw were her illuminated hands. By that time I was rolling my eyes. Speculation was well-intentioned but it’s a miss.

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