Thursday, January 12, 2012

Review: (Toronto) The Blue Dragon

(photo credit: Erick Labbé)

Ex Machinery
When the technical buries the emotional
by Beat Rice

Robert Lepage is known as one of Canada’s leading theatre artists; one who never fails to disappoint - at least visually. He continues to stun audiences with elaborate production values and creative use of new projection technologies. The Blue Dragon is a story based on a graphic novel by Lepage and Marie Michaud. It follows three characters: Pierre (played by Henri Chassé) an artist who has moved from Quebec to China and has made it is home for the last 15 years;  Xiao Ling (Tai Wei Foo), a young Chinese artist who is Pierre’s lover; and Claire, (Marie Michaud) who is a woman from Quebec who once was Pierre’s lover, and who comes to China to rekindle their friendship and also adopt a baby. 

Lepage and set designer Michel Gauthier use the space in such a way that it is like viewing a graphic novel, with scenes happening in squares and use of horizontal and vertical lines dividing the space. There was a cinematic sense to it that was very interesting. 

I am now done saying everything I liked about The Blue Dragon.

They failed to move anything emotionally inside me but perhaps that is due to the slow moving tri-lingual text they were given.

Maybe I loved the way it looked because I am a huge fan of Robert Lepage, but I also had high expectations for everything else that makes a production good: story and acting, both of which were lacking. Before going into the performance I did not know that the majority of it would be in Québécois French and Chinese. Subtitles were cleverly projected on the set, which made me feel like I was watching a movie. A bad movie at that. I am not proficient in either French or Chinese and when the actors did speak in English it was hard for me to understand, and even harder for me to discern whether or not they were good actors. They failed to move anything emotionally inside me but perhaps that is due to the slow moving tri-lingual text they were given. The exposition at the beginning of the play felt drawn out. The text was unoriginal and sparse. It read like a graphic novel which, I suppose, honours the story’s origin, but we need drama on stage or else it becomes uninteresting. The story is also given three alternate endings and the audience member is left to decide how it really did end - a nice idea except it was done in such a way that it could not be taken seriously. It had the audience laughing by the end. 

What frustrated me the most about the production was its potential to be a deeply affecting play. There were many issues merely touched on that could have been developed: foreign adoption, abortion, art, exoticism, urban development and the views of those in the East and the West are just a few examples. 

With all the money and artistic vision that went into this project, I still walked out disappointed. If you are interested in seeing innovative stage designs and mapped projections that use infrared cameras (a technology that has yet to be perfected and that still lags when following a moving subject and so creating awful shadows), then go to the Royal Alex. 

If you want to be moved by good storytelling, stay at home and watch a movie. 

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