Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Review: (Toronto) How To Disappear Completely

Lighting Life and Death
Itai Erdal uses theatre to confront a hideous process
by Beat Rice

What makes a good piece of theatre? Conventionally, a strong script and storyline, actors who move and sound well, design elements that come together cohesively, and a director who pulls it all together.

How To Disappear Completely redefines what an actor is and what theatre is; it is simply Itai Erdal telling the story of a part of his and his mother's life. You do not need to be a trained actor to be a compelling storyteller, you do not have to know movement, technique, or be able to sing or dance. You can be yourself, talk about yourself, and tell a story that’s close and important to you. Sounds easy right? We all know not everybody can do that successfully. But lighting designer Erdal can and does. Here is an artist who is not an actor and who tells a very personal story the core of which focuses on his mother’s struggle with cancer, and how he was there with her until the end. It sounds like the gist of many cancer patient stories but trust me, it is not. 

Erdal filmed the last moments of his mother's life with the thought of making a documentary, and shows us the changes she went through. For us to get to know her better we must first learn about Itai himself, and for us to understand him better, we must get to know her. As Itai says in one moment of the piece, your children are an extension of yourself. As we get to know him we fall in love with him, and his mother as well. She is such an intelligent woman whose enigmatic personality is clear from the footage we see and from the anecdotes Itai tells. Itai shares with us his mother’s words of wisdom that money is only a means to a good life and a prolonged death. Perhaps his filming of every last moment was his way of prolonging her death, and preserving as much of her as he possibly could.

We meet his sister in an interview he conducted and filmed. Projected on a screen onstage are video interviews he filmed of close friends and family, of him and his mother. There is no set, only a few fixtures on booms and bases, which he can move around. 

Itai Erdal is a lighting designer. He tells us right away, and throughout the show we see him as a lighting designer, speaking about different fixtures and looks they can create as well as running cues manually off a tiny board he carries onstage. He makes us conscious of lighting and brings our attention to the wonders it can create. Erdal observes that with lighting you can ignore logic.

The piece is funny, touching, honest, intimate, and most of all, brave. Erdal truly opened up to a dark room full of strangers. How can one not admire that?

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