Saturday, January 5, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Post Eden (Next Stage)

Lindsey Clark
(photo by Jacklyn Atlas)
To Multimedia Fantasia or Not to Multimedia Fantasia
by Greg Bunker

Written and directed by Jordan Tannahill, Post Eden is a contemporary play peculiar because of its “live film” approach: it is a sort of dialogue between on-stage narrators/actors and their silent celluloid selves. The meandering plot follows a suburban family of estranged parents, their teenage daughter, and a weird neighbour boy over the course of a day. What ties them together is the dead family dog, Eden. She occasionally haunts Susan, the mother, and Ashley, the daughter, from her backyard grave. Ashley has come to believe Eden’s burial in the backyard has cursed the family. The neighbour boy, Jacob, convinces the daughter to rebury Eden in a nearby field where her soul will be freed and the curse will be lifted.

it was sadly the “multimedia fantasia” approach itself that became a big problem

The opening sequence of images is intriguing enough: stark scenes of a static suburbia are briefly reminiscent of other overwhelmingly void landscapes that have prefaced many a profound film (think, very fleetingly, of 2001: A Space Odyssey, or, more recently, There Will Be Blood). Anticipating that our collective understanding of suburbia was going to be uniquely unraveled by feats of media magic, it was sadly the “multimedia fantasia” approach itself that became a big problem. The media made for a busy, disjointed, and inconsistent understanding of the play. The film is projected as a kind of dual reality behind the characters, though it seems to flit between emphasis, someone’s mind’s eye, and shots that are at best superfluous and at worst misleading. The screen takes up almost the entire backdrop, so any sense of visual hierarchy is ultimately subsumed by the screen while it is animated. This wouldn’t have been so bad if the filming itself stood on its own as a narrative, or contributed some substance to the plot unfolding on stage. For example, at one point there are two actors, in spotlights, speaking while a triple split-screen is in action. In all of this, I soon realized that only the dialogue was worth following. Putting the onus on the audience to decipher the media happens so frequently, without any kind of intellectual reward or reveal, that simply trying to determine what the narrative is becomes a frustrating task. Visually, the play only seemed to settle into any order towards the climax, when the screen was finally still and Susan and Robert—reduced to their underpants in their misguided attempt to understand each other—try desperately to hammer Robert’s penis out of a plaster mould. Its topic aside, this scene is, by virtue of its length and lack of motion picture, the most memorable. This leads to the issue of character development.

As the plot and media wander, there are few opportunities to develop or emotionally invest in the characters. They seem perpetually at a distance. It is hard to fathom why the actress playing the dog was meant to seem like a human at first, but at least she remained in her dog role throughout. Later, the neighbour Jacob appeared in Susan’s imagination as a coyote, which immediately touched off a replay of whether he could have been a coyote all along since there was already a precedent of people sneakily playing animal roles. He wasn’t, and he never was again after that. Also, there was another strange “animal” scene of Ashley and Jacob almost kissing on stage, while on the screen behind them they were kissing awkwardly with deer and rabbit masks on.

Greg Bunker
Finally, visuals and character development aside, I was hoping for a take-away message; some kind of enlightenment from it all. But the indulgence in multimedia becomes so obtuse that it could only be described as an attempt at avant-garde. There are some fits and starts into interesting conceptual avenues, but these ultimately fail to develop. If there is a single theme that emerges, it is the tired story of nihilism in the suburban lifestyle, which appears to be an accidental and totally ironic rehash since I have the feeling this is opposite to the play’s intentions. The bottom line is that by the end, you’ll be either too frustrated or disengaged to care.

Post Eden is at Next Stage

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