A CHRISTMAS CAROL

By Matt Murray and Jeremy Diamond
Directed and Choreographed by Tracey Flye
A Ross Petty Production. At the Elgin Theatre,
November 30-December 31, 2017

(L-R): Dan Chameroy (Plumbum), Cyrus Lane (Scrooge), and Eddie Glen (Cratchit) photo: Racheal McCaig

Forget about Charles Dickens’s original fable. This mash-up musical does have a Scrooge loose (as the poster claims) and it does have the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future (all played by that zany camp genius Dan Chameroy) but that’s about the only real connections to Dickens. No matter for anyone who has long revelled in Ross Petty’s wildly warped pantos, where the music comes from pop charts and where some of the most fun is generated by parody commercials (and Ross Petty appears in one to prove that he has not given up the ghost in performance) and by a loosey-goosey script that creates a plot that defies cohesion, though it has more than a fair share of adult jokes that zip over the heads of youngsters who, I suspect, would rather boo or cheer or dance in their seats.

Dan Chameroy (Plumbum) (photo: Racheal McCaig)

Anyway, in a nutshell, here’s a very brief summary of the nutty story: Scrooge (Cyrus Lane who is best as a straight-faced foil to Chameroy’s drag Plumbum) heads Scrooge Enterprises that has only the greediest ambition to control all of Christmas. His assistant, Bob Cratchit (the ever-returning comic elf, Eddie Glen), has invented an app called Christmas Crush that will turn every child into an addict under Scrooge’s evil spell. Cratchit hopes to earn his freedom from thralldom to the old miser by this invention, though he himself is no angel: he uses the Humbug singers to raise money for a fake charity—that he calls his own “sweet charity.”  Of course, the Ghosts appear to haunt the miser, but these ghosts are really deliciously crazy in a way that only Dan Chameroy can sell in his inimitable over-the-top improvs and double-entendres that have not only adults rolling in the aisles but some of the cast “corpsing” as well—including Lane’s beanpole miser.

There’s a romantic subplot as well—this one involving Jane, a Scrooge Enterprises employee who is a Citizen Jane of righteous feminism, in that she very justifiably campaigns for equal pay for women. A.J. Bridel, who is a one-woman enterprise all her own, plays her like a Norma Rae heroine, but with a winning beauty, who doesn’t stop with placards, but one who sings and dances her feisty way against chauvinistic or awkward men. Her romantic foil is handsome but romantically awkward Jack (Kyle Golemba), a wrapper in the literal sense, who has the right profile but the wrong pitch for his songs and wooing.

A.J. Bridel (Jane) (photo: Racheal McCaig)

The best fresh invention in the plot is the incarnation of Jacob Marley as a sexy Jamaican with dreadlocks and lyrical voice and movement. David Lopez, who plays him to the hilt, also does the best song performance in his “Despacito” number, though Bridel’s singing is not far behind. And director Tracey Flye also shapes the choreography, serving up twists, rock, and a fusion of other dance styles.

The set, costumes, and videography are gaudy, to say the least, but gaudiness is the least of the problems with this nutty panto. Best to keep the spirit of strict criticism away from the madcap nonsense on stage—such as Glen’s parody of Ellen Degeneres (Helen Sogenerous, anyone?) and the female trio of Ghostdusters. If you want more of such wild antic comedy, there’s Plumbum’s parody of “Thriller,” though even this number isn’t quite in the right key. But this is the Christmas season, isn’t it—though this show wants to turn it into a season of topical news about gender equality, fake news (yes, there’s that ugly spirit of the current White House hovering over certain moments), capitalist greed, etc. Just wish that these themes didn’t create a rather haphazard plot and didn’t carry us so far away from Dickens, whose original fable always has its own heart in the right place. Isn’t it always about the human heart, anyway?

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MR. SHI AND HIS LOVER

by Wong Teng Chi
English translation by Derek Kwan
Directed by Tam Chi Chun
At Tarragon Theatre, November 15-December 17, 2017

(L-R) Jordan Cheng (Shi) and Derek Kwan (Boursicot) (photo: Cylla von Tiedemann)

Restraint is one of the virtues in this interesting 75-minute piece of musical theatre from a Macau production group, but it is also a limitation. When Derek Kwan’s Boursicot (French diplomat in Beijing) stands slightly behind Jordan Cheng’s elegant Shi Pei Pu (cross-dressing opera singer and spy), the audience can almost feel his pent-up ardour for his Chinese lover.  In a subsequent scene, it is Shi’s turn (while wearing a Chinese opera diva’s long-sleeved robe) to stand behind Boursicot, this time with his hands holding his lover to his own body in a gesture of desire, bonding, and conflict-ridden interdependency. There is no raw, raging sex scene—only the nerve ends of carnality. Their story (first presented in Toronto for Summerworks) is not that of David Henry Wang’s Broadway smash from 1992, M. Butterfly, though it takes inspiration from the predecessor, just as it alludes to Puccini’s classic Madam Butterfly without faithfully recirculating its oriental stereotype. In Puccini, Cho-cho san is a geisha, a quintessential Western paragon of Japanese women, and her suicide (after her betrayal by the American Pinkerton) is of a form conventionally associated with Japan. In Hwang’s play, the central figure is male, representing a rejection of the stereotypical Asian woman, but Gallimard, the French diplomat, who falls in love with Song Liling (the transvestite Butterfly), represents the Westerner’s desperate belief in the Oriental stereotype. Mr. Shi and His Lover elects to tells its real-life story in “an imagined space” that is a sort of prison to Shi who feels desperately alone while searching for a new ending for his ruffled, suffering lover but especially for himself. Boursicot has given up everything for him but has not found true happiness, though he claims to know what happiness is. Perhaps it is because he subscribes to Oriental stereotypes of the feminine beloved as Lotus Blossom or Oriental Beauty. Certainly, Jordan Cheng’s slender, graceful, androgynous Shi is as delicate as a flower blossom and as beautiful, and he knows how to maintain a fiction about ideal femininity. But he has an inquiring mind, and Wong Teng Chi’s fable unfolds like a love-drenched reverie in Shi’s mind and in which Boursicot is compelled to wonder if he has fallen in love first with a man and then with an impersonated woman.

There are many other tangential themes—lies, politics, history, ideal and fantasy—but they are all assimilated by notions of performance. Everything is seen in terms of performance, whether it is Shi’s ritual of making up, crossdressing, singing, or delivering monologues and dialogue. The mandarin dialogue is given English sur-titles, but sometimes the text is top-heavy with abstract concepts that seem to clash with the predominately sensuous score—a fusion of lush Chinese and Western operatic arias and Chinese folk music (sensitively rendered by Njo at the piano and Yukie Lai on percussion). The score could stand on its own, and there are plans to record and release it on a CD, with, I suggest, a booklet containing the lyrics in English. Yet I don’t want to suggest that the score steals attention from the story. It is beautiful, artful, moving, yet wonderfully controlled.

The restraint extends to the scenic, costume, and lighting design as well. The set is simply a dressing stand with mirror and opera costume and a small red rectangular carpet is flanked upstage by the two musicians. Shi and his lover wear Western suits, emblematic of cosmopolitan colonization, and the lighting is never obtrusive. The actors perform without resorting to any operatic flourishes, though the volume and modulations of Shi’s spoken text and sung lyrics give Jordan Cheng more beguiling colour and range than Derek Kwan enjoys as his perplexed, frustrated lover. Being specially trained in music, Cheng handles his solos with stunning virtuosity, sliding from high, plaintive or playful falsetto to sharp seductiveness or angry defiance. But the solo arias and spoken monologues are not enough to enhance theatricality, and the question-riddled dialogue adds an unnecessary burden to the acting. Consequently, the characters don’t come fully to life often enough, with the piece remaining more a mental drama than a fully fleshed play. I wanted more eroticism, and I wanted to know how Boursicot must have truly felt about either being duped by Shi or willingly maintaining a fiction about love and identity.

THE GOAT OR, WHO IS SYLVIA ?

By Edward Albee
Directed by Alan Dilworth
A Soulpepper Production at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts
November 1-18, 2017

Raquel Duffy (Stevie) and Albert Schultz (Martin) (photo: Cylla von Tiedemann)

Martin is a 50-year old architect at the peak of fame (the recent winner of the prestigious Pritzker Prize), married to Stevie for twenty-two years and empathetic towards his gay son Billy. But Martin worries about memory loss and acts detached during a television interview with his oldest friend, Ross, who is really the smug embodiment of liberal hypocrisy, especially when Martin’s confession about his love relationship with a goat (the Sylvia of the title) is brought into the open early in the plot. Ross can abide adultery only so long as it does not involve bestiality. In other words, he doesn’t mind the idea of cheating on a wife, but doing it with a goat is another thing—an attitude that in itself sounds reasonable enough. But Albee isn’t writing about bestiality per se. His play seems to be about the uncontrollable nature of human sexuality and the complications that ensue from what is regarded as taboo sex by conventional society. Despite the black humour (an amalgam of savagery and anguish), the play is filled with grief and rage as it boldly investigates the confrontation between “unspeakable” desires and social norms and laws. It zeroes in on love, loss, betrayal, and its violent ending brings most of the characters down, while offering what is supposed to be a catharsis of fear and pity.

I have now seen three productions of Albee’s controversial play, starting with the Broadway original starring Mercedes Ruehl and Bill Pullman (the best version I have ever experienced), but each time the play grows more dissatisfying to me. Part of the reason is that each successive production seems to lack the power and finesse of the first, but an equally strong reason is Albee’s own muddled text that creates an unresolved problem of emotional incredibility and arch didactic self-consciousness. In an essay in 2004, Albee revealed he had set out to write a play about “intertwined matters—the limits of our tolerance of the behavior of others than ourselves, especially when such behavior ran counter to what we believed to be acceptable social and moral boundaries, and our unwillingness to imagine ourselves behaving in such an unacceptable fashion—in other words our refusal to imagine ourselves subject to circumstances outside our own comfort zones.”  His play would construct itself “as an idea, informing me that that’s what I intended to write about” in a kind of “unconscious didacticism.” Well, nothing was really “unconscious” because what eventually resulted, after an aborted first attempt with a totally different plot, context, and set of characters, is what we now have as The Goat or, Who is Sylvia? that (as its title implies) mixes a bit of Greek tragedy, Shakespeare, black humour, and Albee’s own idiosyncratic epistemological inquiry that mixes absurdist farce with dark pain. There is much word-play about bestiality (allusions to a feed store, a stall with bedding, cruising livestock, and a possible joke about Billy the kid) as if Albee had suddenly turned into a raunchy stand-up comedian, but such humour seems calculated as if the playwright is anticipating cynical audience jokes and is intent on beating the audience to the punch.

In ancient Greek, tragos meant “goat song,” and there was inevitably a scapegoat. Albee works in every allusion to classical Greek tragedy he can think of—from references to the Eumenides and sacrifice—as well as forced and unconvincing phrases (“tragic mouth,” for example) and an apocalyptic finale of destruction and self-destruction. Then there is the Shakespearean reference to the pastoral song from Two Gentlemen of Verona, in which beautiful Silvia is silent—just as the goat in Albee’s play, with Martin’s representing her swain (urban rather than rural in this case). But this creates a fundamental, unresolved problem. Albee is writing provocatively, pushing a text as far as he can go deliberately, but more from the head than from the heart, and actors have to find a way to reconcile both head and heart without appearing to be theatrical abstractions or allegorical figures.

It is a difficult proposition that Alan Dilworth’s production fails to present in an emotionally credible way. He and designer Lorenzo Savoini impose a large scale with the set: clean but rigid straight lines, high walls and roof, austere chairs and white table. But classical tragedy isn’t achieved by this type of scale: characters themselves have to be enlarged as if some invisible force were lifting them out of a mere human scale and propelling them towards a destructive climax. Savoini’s design satirizes white suburbia (as in his costumes that seem to suggest the 50s or 60s) but is largely an empty space that the cast does not always populate with believable or affecting characters. Instead of becoming a dark, painful void, the space remains just a space, with the white living room table remaining just that rather than an altar of sacrifice, even when Stevie dumps the slaughtered goat on it. Dilworth also stresses literalism more than he does the figurative for the murdered goat is shown almost fully rather than concealed in a bloody body bag the way it was in the original Broadway production.

But, ultimately, a lot depends on the acting. The figure of Ross is created to score didactic points about hypocrisy and betrayal rather than to be a fully fleshed friend, and Derek Boyes’s performance is, as usual, life-sized but is not allowed much intrinsic weight. As the gay, angst-ridden son, Paolo Santaluccia is almost creepily rigid and weepy, his tight fists usually closed, his voice and acting unable to grow beyond their first rudimentary levels of signification. Raquel Duffy has her best dramatic role to date as Stevie, the betrayed wife, but though she looks beautiful in high heels and elegant dress, and runs the gamut from mocking humour to rage, disillusionment, and grief, she does not have enough scale and gives away too much at the beginning, thereby failing to grow in vulnerability and terrifying revenge. When she smashes art objects in a venting of rage, she merely tears her passion to tatters, rather than incarnating deep victimhood. Her wails of grief and rage are howls that don’t seem to issue viscerally. They are enactments of loud fury. Albert Schultz is physically large in height and weight, but he enacts Martin externally, his defensive bent-over posture repeated too often. His final explosion is far less moving than is his warm understanding of his anguished son. In other words, I didn’t feel viscerally moved much at the end of the production, so it seemed as if the poor goat had died for little.

BAT OUT OF HELL (The Musical)

Book, Music & Lyrics by Jim Steinman
Directed by Jay Schieb
A Mirvish Presentation at the Ed Mirvish Theatre
Opened October 25, 2017

Bat out of Hell has an absurd plot, largely ridiculously cliched characters, boringly repetitive but energetic choreography, an ensemble of mainly posturing performers where posture or whine or grunt or roar is confused with acting, and some remarkable special effects. Confetti cannons shoot out silver tinsel, a banquet table converts into a pink convertible car that crashes slowly into the orchestra pit and sends some of the musicians scurrying out of it, and a largely static motorbike explodes, sending its parts flying into the air to form an iconic heart that floats above an anti-hero who rubs blood from it all over his bare chest. These are, no doubt, the moments and effects that younger generations will remember into middle age the way their parents probably cherish memories of a crashing chandelier, an underground secret lake, dancing jellicle cats, or an American helicopter hovering over the stage from their most treasured Broadway musicals.

Enduring the two-hour-forty-minute show (including intermission) is a test and a trial, except for (and this is a mighty exception, indeed) Jim Steinman’s music and lyrics that run the gamut from tribal rock to tender love ballad to pop diva arias and stunning blues. For the most part, the songs are very well sung, especially by Andrew Polec’s blond, bare-chested Strat (leader of a never-aging band of teen underground rockers aptly called The Lost), Christina Bennington’s raven-haired Raven (teenage daughter of filthy rich tycoon Falcon with his own Trumpian tower, though minus the gold furnishings), Billy Lewis, Jr.’s Jagwire (one of the more memorable denizens of The Lost), and Danielle Steers’s Zahara (a busty, long legged beauty with a voice as melodiously sexy and grainy as Cher’s). The last two share a wonderful duet entitled “Two out of Three Ain’t Bad,” which, alas, is not how I would score this production.

Trouble is that Jim Steinman (the great song-writer and lyricist) also did the book, which is about as silly a rock libretto as could be imagined. Obsidian (formerly known as Manhattan) is the dark city of this musical’s fiction, and it is apparently divided into the vulgarly rich (the Falcos, who seem to have no neighbours) and the vulgarly low (The Lost who never age beyond 18). Jon Bausor’s set design is massively Wagnerian in a 21st century punk rock manner (replete with dark cave, tunnel, and huge overhanging wooden beams) offset by the richly grandiose Falco Towers, where security thugs are in black leather, and where virtually every act in every boudoir or room is videotaped live. It’s Trump’s reality T.V. without the orange-haired scumbag, though Falco is a scumbag of a different type: he’s usually bare-chested, wears a scar, tattoos, and nipple rings, and walks around with a bat covered with barbed wire. In one scene, the Abu Ghraib of Obsidian where The Lost are tortured in orange jumpsuits in a large cage, he belts out “In the Land of the Pig, the Butcher is King” He is evidently a former rocker who is off his meds. Rob Fowler, who plays him, is as coarse as the role. His wife, Sloane, is played by Sharon Sexton, and she lacks entertainment by her mister, at least of the raw, carnal sort. She spreads her legs invitingly, tumbles over a sofa in a lubricious display, but the actress has a nice way with throwaway wit. Well, the lady’s not fully a tramp, and she does get her all-out moment of lyrical eroto-mania by way of auto-mania with her old man in the number “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.”

Andrew Polec (Strat) leads The Lost

The main thrust of the musical can be summarized as follows: teen rebel with a cause loves teen gal, loses her, wins her again, but loses a younger male teen devotee named Tink (evidently cursed with an obsessive gene and an even more perverse nickname) in the process. Shades of Hair, Peter Pan, Rent, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and who knows what else. But the devil is in the bad details. How is Strat able to penetrate Falco Towers and slip into Raven’s bedroom without being detected by heavy security thugs and surveillance video? Are Falco and family doing their own version of Gene Simmons’s Family Jewels reality television series? Why do teenage hard rockers fall so easily into a line dance with limited movement vocabulary? And why after an age of Glam Rock are they all dressed perennially for Halloween or a bargain-basement version of Hair or Rent?

The songs, as I’ve said, are wonderful.

DUAL LIGHT

A Choreographic Work by Andrea Nann
A Dreamwalker Dance Company Production
for NextSteps Mainstage Series
Harbourfront Centre Theatre, October 19-21, 2018

Yuichiro Inoue and Kristy Kennedy (photo: Jeremy Mimnagh)

Andrea Nann’s 60-minute dance piece is a splendid demonstration of how movement (when allied to intertwining voices) can provoke meditation on human memorials to our interconnectedness with one another, space, and time.  It is a profoundly personal work, in which which dancer-choreographer Nann (indisputably one of our national treasures) re-introduces herself to herself via a monologue addressed to her audience. Born in Vancouver to Chinese parents, Nann dreamed of living on a planet with two suns (East and West). Now 51, and as elegantly supple and sinuous as ever, she subscribes to the Taoist belief that humans express the bridge between heaven and earth. Her piece is non-linear, being, in effect, a collage of music, lighting, spoken word, minimal scenography, and dance movement—quick with thought, passion, and changing affinities. To appreciate Dual Light fruitfully, it is important to join our concentration with that of the dancers, and leave ourselves open to its distinctive amorphousness.

On a largely bare stage, except for four chairs and a large overhanging tilted silver rectangle that can be lowered and shifted at different angles, Dual Light may seem pretentiously abstract—almost a repetition of a popular fallacy that modern dance can equal philosophy. The large tilted silver rectangle doesn’t really work in any appreciable way to enhance meaning or scenic effect, and therefore seems like a possibly good idea gone wrong, but while Dual Light investigates dimensions of knowing and seeing, sensing and acting, it remains rooted in palpable, incarnate images of the human body in delicate or tense semaphores, flurries of motion or passive instances of thoughtful silence. Not for nothing is there a soundtrack of a beautiful Chinese version of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sounds of Silence” where the quartet of dancers (two Asian, two Caucasian) sit quietly listening to the lyric, rhythm, and tone of the haunting ballad. The dancers derive their impulses to move, to configure, to incarnate from vibrations, whether from music or from spoken word or an inner psychological compulsion. Nann is heard in recorded conversation with her 87-year old father, a distinguished former professor who, after living alone for 30 years, sold his Vancouver home and moved to Toronto to live with her and her small family. What Professor Nann (I remember his being a very elegant, articulate man from my one and only brief meeting with him many years ago) discusses is the theme of leavings, whether through death or in life itself. And his daughter (who clearly has a tender, loving relationship with him) expresses this bitter-sweet wisdom about creative acceptance or acquiescence through her choreography of enlarged arcs, tilts, sweeps of the body, and intertwining limbs.

Kristy Kennedy and Brendan Wyatt (photo: Jeremy Mimnagh)

The general choreographic emphasis is on a low centre of gravity, where the dancer finds an axis close to the floor. There are some stunning sequences: Yuichiro Inoue and Kristy Kennedy (who now lives in the U.S.) perform a delicate duet of slowly moving cupped hands; Inoue also has a striking solo where his body vibrates to the exact beat of a Japanese recitative; Kennedy delivers a touching soliloquy that is truly a prose poem and then demonstrates her dynamic vocabulary of movement; Brendan Wyatt and Andrea Nann complement each other and the other two perfectly in their expressions of supportive intimacies. Just as the sound design by Joshua Van Tassel (merging Skydiggers, The King’s Singers, Kitakabe, and the Graduates with sheer vibrations) is a form of investigation, so are the dances and the dancers’ personal narratives. There are strong leanings, arcs of arm and leg, where physical presence elicits choice and consequence, but the exquisitely unfolding of the piece is gentle, liminal, and skilfully resonant with feeling and thought. One of the underlying moods is melancholy at the passage of loved ones, but this melancholy is not an end in itself: it reaches for some fundamental existential wisdom in personal narratives and a path forward in life with what Keats once called “negative capability.”

GOLDEN LOTUS

Choreographed and Directed by Wang Yuanyuan.
A Beijing Dance Theater Presentation at the Living Arts Centre,
Mississauga. October 5-6, 2017

Zhang Qlang (Ximen Qing) and Feng Linshu (Pan Jinlian) in “Golden Lotus” 

Wang Yuanyuan choreographed the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremony, but she is also deservedly famous for creating China’s avant-garde productions of Raise the Red Lantern and Haze. Her resume can add Golden Lotus to its list of stunning achievements, though the Chinese government cannot be persuaded to agree. In fact, China, the source of the famous 16th century novel, Jin Ping Mei or The Golden Lotus, and the birthplace of Yuanyuan’s Beijing Dance Theater company, has been banned from that country because of its explicit portrayal of sex, adultery, and corruption in a decadent society. It is highly ironic and mordantly amusing to see an entire political party quaking and shuddering over images that can find their inspiration in centuries of Chinese pornography. And when will censors ever learn that the very act of censorship helps boost curiosity about the forbidden thing? China’s ban on the novel has led to massive downloads of the text on the Internet. Yuanyuan’s 90-minute dance piece dances past the dreary, pontifical censors—but its signal triumph is not as pornography. Far from it: Golden Lotus in its present dance form is a thing of rare beauty.

China’s majority needn’t worry. Yuanyuan’s adaptation is hardly a scrupulously faithful adaptation. How could it possibly be—as a dance piece that strips down most of the period and plot detail, simplifies the leading characters, and aims at aestheticizing what could be a schematic parable. The front curtain is a wide rendering in black and silver that remains down all through the Prologue in dim light where a tableau of half-naked dancers (in transparent gauze and flesh-coloured body suits) sets the tone for this piece that builds and subsides, builds and peaks over and over. When the curtain does lift, what we see is a jumble of almost nude bodies, limbs entangled, flesh unflinchingly exposed. It soon becomes evident that there is an anti-hero, Ximen Qing (Zhang Qlang), lean of body, supple in his sexual athleticism, who has an insatiable lust for women’s flesh. He catches the attention of Pan Jinlian (Feng Linshu), a married woman dissatisfied with her husband Wu Dalang (Qin Ziqian) and who, like Qing, is also infamous for her huge sexual appetite. The two principals perform a pas de deux that showcases his vigorous arms and sinewy body and her long, legged extensions that stamp her as an aggressive seductress of the first order. She sits on his back and pulls one of his legs, and subsequently aims her buttocks at his crotch. She is relentless in her lust, refusing to stop even when her husband appears at a window. When he does return to the house, the adulterers murder him, just so that Pan Jinlian can marry Ximen Qing. Alas, as his fifth wife, instead of inheriting uninhibited conjugal bliss, she inherits familial intrigue and corruption.

Corps in “Golden Lotus”

Wang Yuanyuan’s adaptation is but a skeleton version of the novel, opting to focus on destructive human appetite than an entire society’s social, political, and moral blights. But in its own tightly modest terms, it is an artistic triumph, with stunning décor and lighting by Han Jiang (inky black paintings, a cyclorama of burnished gold with impasto effects highlighted by top lighting, and a series of long tapestries whose flaps allow dancers to emerge from and disappear into the invisible). Oscar-winning costume designer Tim Yip suggests a social and moral landscape by his colours and fabrics, especially in the heavy black robes for what I took to be high-toned, haughty society censors offset by the filmy costumes for the principals and corps that permit an extraordinary amount of flexible freedom. Composer Du Wei has created one of the most fascinating soundtracks I have ever experienced for dance, mixing traditional Chinese instruments and tones with edgy, grainy, harsh contemporary effects.

Pas de deux from “Golden Lotus”

But everything returns to the question of choreography and narrative, and even here, despite all the rigorous trimming, editing, and re-arranging, Golden Lotus is thrilling. Combining slow ritual with passionate eroticism, mystery with morality, the story limits its focus, gaining in dance power what it loses in fidelity to its huge literary source. To be candid, I did not get all the allusions made in the ill-written house program. Nor did I feel that the dance answered all my questions about its narrative. But what stage images created by a corps of twenty with absolute trust and faith in one another and in their choreographer! An octet of women, half naked to the waist, swaying in unison, their long, rippling skirts moving like water; an aggrieved husband performing his soul-destroying humiliation; two women engaged in a passionate contest (with sexual motive) on a gently rocking bed; the anti-hero’s physical collapse while surrounded by the tangle of hands advancing upon him; and his eventual backward disappearance into a huge shadow of what looks suspiciously like a woman’s vagina—emblem of the uncontrolled wild sex he has sought all his life.

But what of the title? There is no tangible lotus anywhere on stage, but there is a final Buddhist chant in Chinese, a sort of swan song, to remind us that the lotus (symbol of purity) floats above mud and on water: in other words, it symbolizes freedom from attachment and desire—the very things that bedevil Pan Jinlian and Ximen Qing. A pity that there is neither an explanatory program note nor Sur-titles in English. A pity, too, that this magnificent production is wasted on the Living Arts Center, a huge cavern (never with a full house) built in all likelihood to commemorate a former mayor’s ego rather than for any sensible, rational, artistic reason. A pity, too, that the Chinese audience seemed intent on chattering and taking covert film or photos while the dance was in progress.

Highly recommended to those who value dance in a very high reach as art.

THE MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT

By Jean Giraudoux
Directed by Donna Feore
At the Tom Patterson Theatre. Till September 24, 2017

Seana McKenna (Countess Aurelie) with members of the company (photo: Cylla von Tiedemann)

While it is too long for the fable it spins, Giraudoux’s comic fantasy is witty, whimsical, and wise, and Donna Feore’s colourful production, though unable to find a single unifying style for it, attempts to mask the languid sections by rapturous humour and a sort of light, romantic unreality created by Teresa Przybylki’s set and costume design and Kimberly Purtell’s lighting. Peter McBoyle’s sound design serves up a little “jazz hot”—relic of a vanished Paris. Giraudoux wrote the play in the early 40s, during WWII, probably to sound notes of resistance to the enemies of France and its heights of culture and civilization. The title character, Countess Aurelie, is thought to be mad because she lives in a world of tattered fantasy, still pining for a long-lost lover. She certainly has lady friends (each from a different district) who could be certifiably mad: one (Constance) clinging to a droll fantasy of a pet dog that is always invisible to everyone; another (Gabrielle) looking like a rouged doll in ringlets, ribbons, and bustle, who hears voices from her hot water bottle and eagerly awaits an imagined suitor; and a third (Josephine) who, despite her rational knowledge of law, keeps waiting insanely for a parade that never comes by. Their scene-a-quatre in Part 2 plays with delightful delirium like something out of Alice in Wonderland, but the essential point of the play is that despite these women’s mad fantasies, the world has changed dangerously for the worse, because (according to the Ragman, the voice of rag-tag wisdom) “little by little, the pimps have taken over the world.” Greed is dominant and people are publicly worshipping the golden calf. When this dire news is brought to Aurelie, she devises a miraculous plan to rid the world of these parasites. Her plan involves making love the one decent motive for living: this plus Giraudoux’s magic literary wand that summons up a fantasy solution that comes full blown in this production with smoke and a farcical parade of victims.

Giraudoux’s play will undoubtedly remind some of Saroyan’s old-fashioned romantic and sentimental humanism, but Giraudoux’s is, perhaps, more sophisticated, though also far wordier (new English translation by David Edney). Set at first in an airy café in Chaillot (a district of Paris), where a President, a Baron, and a Broker meet to hatch a plot to make even more money (a plot creating a fantasy of oil under the streets), each rapacious man given the floor for a monologue, the play sets up its conflicts plainly. The greedy ones against the world of little men: waiter, peddler, juggler, press agent, police officer, kitchen girl, handyman, sewer worker, deaf woman, street singer, lifeguard, street musician, etc. The cast shines in these disparate character-sketches, led by Ben Carlson’s brusque, rude President who rails against the assorted “little” people for being puppets. Actually, he has a point: Giraudoux’s play revels in the very strings it manipulates to control the characters and thereby lead them to his pointed conclusion.

There are wonderful comic contributions from Cyrus Lane as a pragmatically helpful Sewer-Worker, and Gareth Potter as a Lifeguard who can’t swim and therefore saves only those drowning only on land, while Scott Wentworth makes a notably ruminative, cynical Ragman. Antoine Yared as Pierre and Mikaela Davis as his beloved deliver tender romance, but the most engaging performances come, not unexpectedly, from the madwomen: Kim Horsman as canine-obsessed Constance; Marion Adler as wispy, prudish, aging doll Gabrielle; Yanna McIntosh as legal-minded Josephine; and, of course, Seana McKenna as Aurelie, though she doesn’t make as much of the eccentricity as she could. But there is more diverting comedy than weighty drama, and I could have done without Wayne Best in a handlebar moustache and black cloak that he twirls like a villain from silent-screen melodrama. The final confrontation between Aurelie and the villains is treated as broad farce, devolved from Marx Brothers zaniness but lacking their freewheeling genius.