Review- 887 Ex-Machina, by Robert Lepage - Hong Kong Arts Festival

  4-3-19

By Dakota Duclo

 

 

 

How do we define theatre? When it comes to mind, we typically, if not in fact almost usually, think about basically the same thing: Stage, curtains, lights, script, characters, actors/director, etc. We think of a play, and normally, a specific format to that play. Of those who’ve ever taken a ‘script analysis’ course, are reminded of Aristotle’s Poetics and how he and everyone else used it to study dramatic theory, as well as to how it would apply to script and plot structure.

 

If everything that’s suggested above is what makes theatre, then Robert Lepage quite frankly throws the book at us all and says “No, I’m going to do this my way” in his new production of 887. However, if we consider theatre to be any form of entertainment to which people gather together in communion to view, ergo sporting events, stand-up comedy, or even daresay WWE Wrestling, then maybe Lepage new something we didn’t all along. His newest play 887 is not the typical one-man show you may think of when remembering artists like Carrie Fisher, John Leguizamo, Joy Behar, or even the great Mel Brooks.

 

What many of these artists had in common, and what could be argued Lepage shares with them, is that their one-man shows usually were about themselves and could be somewhat seen as autobiographical. What separates them from one another is purely stylistic, and if Lepage knows anything (quite sure he knows a lot) he knew this going in. As some may know and others are just finding out, this isn’t his first production and likely won’t be his last.

 

Now in the interest of not spoiling his show, it’s best to be candid yet careful in sharing what you’ll be in for. If you’re not a frequent theatre-goer or rather just unfamiliar with is work, the word on the street is the actor really loves stage-tech. The tech in the show is nothing short of amazing. The set works on a swivel to which he seems to turn at ease, revealing model apartment buildings with built-in screens to accommodate his narration of the show. Other times reveal full rooms with entire built-in sets which worked wonderfully when he himself would see fit to use the space and start “acting”.

 

He also seemed to make use of small cameras that he could use to show his model images on the projector screen, so as to give the audience a more intimate view of what HE was looking at. It often seemed his mission to integrate the art of film within the theatre. Not unheard of, but rest assured he did this all his own way. The lighting was exceptional, and one can easily tell that this show is nothing without its stage management and technical crew.

 

There were however flaws. Robert Lepage is more than comfortable on stage, but it’s often inconsistent with what it appears he’s trying to do. On one hand, it’s as though he’s trying to keep things simple by breaking the 4th wall and conversing with the audience, which works well. On the other hand, he takes the stance of what appears to be the “English/Drama Teacher” reading us a story, and that can be off-putting.

 

There were also a great many moments of attempting to display too much depth, and as the show itself is already pretty deep, that seemed unnecessary and can almost make one feel that he was just trying to fill up time. That said, it will do no good to further harp on the things that can be improved, and quite honestly only really serve as one man’s opinion. Because if one thing is for certain, this show will draw out many opinions, likely differing from one person to the next. The things that come into question for a production like this are what constitutes entertainment value, and what’s needed to move the theatre’s culture in a progressive direction. Meaning: the entertainment value of this piece is certainly up for debate.

 

Does this play move the culture forward? Without a doubt. The things to keep in mind are this: Robert Lepage is certainly a genius in his own right. He’s doing something onstage with imagery and story-telling that we don’t often see, and regardless of whether or not you feel you’d enjoy it, it’s something that NEEDS to be seen. 

 

As writing a review’s purpose is to be constructive, it serves no benefit to overly praise a production nor does it help anyone to completely come off as a mercenary, and destroy it completely. If there are more than a few things this play does, it certainly stimulates thought, provokes discussion, and it provides the audience something that’s not necessarily ‘new’, yet not often seen. In closing, and to be completely blunt, this show is simply not for the dull or unintelligent.

 

And if you enjoy people’s personal stories, equipped with a shade of history and a touch of symbolism, you should probably see the show. Furthermore, if you’re not into any of that stuff, see it anyway. Don’t be the person left out of the discussion when this show passes through, because there will definitely be plenty to talk about. 

 

This production has now closed. 


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