New York City’s legendary theatre company The Wooster Group has arrived in Toronto!
Since its founding in 1976, The Wooster Group has produced an extensive body of groundbreaking work. Led by Elizabeth LeCompte, the company of 17 performers, technical artists, and administrators works collaboratively, weaving together text, movement, and technology to tell stories in a signature style that is celebrated for breaking the boundaries of conventional performance.
My good friend Jonathan Morton Schuster, a Toronto based theatre enthusiast and performer mentioned to me a few weeks ago that he was keen to see them when they came to town. He studied theatre at University and one of his professors spent several classes deconstructing their work. So this past Wednesday I was excited for him to join me for the opening night of The Wooster Group’s Version of Tennessee Williams’ Vieux Carre presented by The Harbourfront Centre’s World Stage.
In keeping with the tradition of my theatre reviews, “I finished work and was a bit frazzled and exhausted from my day.” I decided to hop on the Spadina Streetcar bound for the Lake. I jumped out at Queens Quay and spent the next 30 minutes strolling along the boardwalk. I stared out at winterized boats and lonely kayaks. It was a cold March evening, my eyes filled with tears from the dryness of it all. I desperately wanted to believe that summer would soon reveal herself. I am so sick of this jaded city. Emotionless faces, salt covered leather boots, suffrage that is Vitamin D deficiency. The wind blew through my hair, a chipmunk stared up at me, I barked at it like a mute raccoon #onlymoveyourmouth
I arrived at The Fleck Theatre for 7:30pm to pick up my media kit and tickets. I wandered around (it was my first time here) and took a few pictures before the house opened. I sat in my seat and contemplated. I realized this was only my second show at The Harbourfront Centre. Last April I reviewed Kaeja d’Dance’s spectacle 20/20 Vision which was performed at the larger Enwave Theatre.
The Fleck is an intimate space. As soon as I arrived I noticed that once people had shimmied their bottoms into their seats they immediately stared at the stage intensely. Every brow raised a question. The stage and the nick nacks n’ brick and brack upon it were being studied like a crime scene. We were trying to make sense of what was on stage. The cubic architecture of the set reminded me of Paella Mixita which I reviewed at the Seoul International Performing Arts Festival in 2008. A few pillows, a chess board, bottle of bourbon and teacups juxtaposed against a set decorated with flat screens, cables and platforms on wheels.
Moments before the show started one of the ushers whispered from the top of the stairs, “we have two seats right at the front of the stage would anyone like to take them?” There was this classic few seconds of Torontonian passive aggressive silence which I quickly cut by chirping “that’s us!” As I grabbed my coat and ran down the stairs I swear I saw three winter-bitter artists scowling at me. Finders keepers losers weepers. We plopped down into our front row seats and seconds later the actors made their way onto the stage…
The Wooster Group’s Version of Tennessee Williams’ Vieux Carre is a coming out story which is revealed in a fractured, manic, indulgent, hyper-multi-sensory manner. When the actors took their last bow on stage I scrambled to piece together in my mind a first impression. I was so overwhelmed by the experience. I really wish during the show I had use a of a quill and parchment to scribble down the adjectives and whimsy that made impression after impression on me. With a lengthy film repertoire in my back pocket the first comparisons that came to mind were a medley of Short Bus story telling and charismatic characterization with the disjointed and high adrenaline of Run Lola Run.
Perhaps I should feel awkward about revealing this truth, but Vieux Carre’s unsettling and often “all over the place” execution very much resonated with me. I was diagnosed with ADD as a child and grew up rifting colourful bottles of Ritalin and Dexadrine. My mind has always run around several miles a minute. People who know me well understand that conversations with me are fueled on turbo and can often feature several threads of dialogue in one breath. The best metaphor for the mental space in which I live is that of a highway. Living in my head feels like I am driving a race car on an empty highway…constantly switching gears and changing lanes. Vieux Carre spills these pills. The actors slam themselves into the space, scream uncontrollably, reveal their honest hearts without much trepidation and consistently gravitate to the most creative parts of the human soul. This is a world that I connect with.
The show features overtly sexual visuals such as dildos, male actors who are frequently dressed in nothing but jockstraps and a simulated sexual experience revealed on screen as a lovers bygone fantasy. Half way through the “gay of the play” finds himself sitting down at a chair and keyboard, vexed with writers block trying to find the words that will best take him down a path to enlightenment. I actually had to laugh at this circumstance as in many ways this is the story of my life. Spending endless hours typing, ranting and raving, swigging a little bit of this and that, finding inspiration in the chaotic mind that creeps up when we writers gets restless.
Vieux Carre is a multimedia masterpiece. The actors regularly interact with the set, connecting with pulleys, sliding doors, rotating screens and moveable tables. This creates a space which is just as fascinating as the characters that prance upon it. During the performance I couldn’t help but compare the design to that of the popular board game, Mouse Trap. The Wooster Groups interpretation of Tennessee Williams’ View Carre is a disturbing and essential work that forces us to critically contemplate theatre and the human condition. The Group creates a comfortable space for a liberated audience to escape. Just prepare, you may leave feeling like you’ve been force fed ten shots of espresso.
“I’m a yellow cab girl with limousine inspirations.”
NOTE: Excited to include this update. Wooster Group was so pleased with this review they turned it into a video blog. I’ve been immortalized on the internet!
Production Still Photo Credits: Franck Beloncle