Theatre at the Elbow
by David C. Jones
This is truly a theatrical experience and a unique opening production for a brand new Vancouver company The Elbow Theatre Society. It takes risks as it tests some theories and it has some great successes but a few flaws.
Each night a different actor or performer is given a sealed script. On stage are a ladder, a chair and a small table containing two glasses of water and a small vial of white powder. On cue our actress opens the script and cold reads. We were very fortunate to have the intensely curious Carmen Aguirre as our reader. She becomes the conduit for Iranian writer Nassim Soleimanpour as he educates and manipulates both her and the audience to react, respond and recoil to stories full of parables, facts and analogies.
The audience is asked to number off and at times Soleimanpour through his actor calls on people to act out roles via number or volunteering. Some of us played Rabbits or Bears and I was secured because of my writing pad as the note taker and eventually as the photographer via iPhone.
It is wrong to give too much away – the show is promoted with few details and like Aguirre we were experiencing it all for the first time in real time. Soleimanpour says he is trapped or maybe he isn’t, that the vial may contain poison or it doesn’t, that we are all cheats.
Maybe because I was the note taker I started to get heavily involved and became not only invested but also a little scared not only for our unseen writer but also for the actor ‘tricked’ into being in this reading.
There are cryptic platitudes and morals in the weirdly present author’s writing. “Luck is the key to flippancy” and “Your cheats train you to die” - coming from an oppressed Iranian who may be dead (or not) they carry some weight.
But as it continued the law of diminishing returns came to the fore, the central conceit of the story seemed less and less likely and so the risk and threat weakened. In the end you are grateful, very grateful for an unusual journey but wish the final destination lived up to the premise.
Still I strongly recommend this because I now know that “whenever you bite a carrot the hungry rabbits will bite you.”