Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Review: (Montreal) Pique

A Beautiful Empty Box
 by Chad Dembski

Robert Lepage is probably one of the best known theatre artists from Quebec both in Montreal, Canada and the world for his gigantic productions for Cirque du Soleil, Metropolitan Opera and, of course, his own company Ex Machina.  I have been watching his productions since the early 1990’s (the first being Seven Streams of the River Ota) and he used to be a hero of mine. I have been able to see less and less of his shows over the years as he has become one of the top in-demand directors in the world. 

Playing Cards (Spades) or PIQUE is the latest creation from Robert Lepage and his international Ex Machina team. This latest piece which opened at ToHu last night was a collective creation with the cast and playwright Peder Bjurman. Taking place in Las Vegas in 2003 the piece begins with a wedding by an Elvis Presley impersonator for a young Québecois couple. This bleeds into a scene of a hotel being cleaned by a variety of staff and then magically leaving the stage from underneath to leave us with two Spanish housemaids.
This begins two important returning themes to the piece; international languages and a constantly revolving and evolving set.  French, English and Spanish are constantly spoken throughout the piece by the six cast members who each take on at least 2-3 characters each. There is an English television producer, two Spanish housemaids, a mysterious man with a cowboy hat, Danish and Spanish soldiers who are training in the desert, a French TV producer and another mysterious local native person (or at least I think it was). 

The piece seemed very influenced by Robert Lepage’s time in Las Vegas working with Cirque du Soleil. The show is full of surprises and visual flare but little story or character to care about or follow properly. While easy to enjoy on a superficial level, the constant movement and set changes are astounding, it is a piece empty of real emotion. The theme of television comes up quite often (through two of the main characters, and four video screens that appear in about half of the scenes) and seems fitting for the depth of character chosen. At times it plays a lot more like a soap opera or a drama program than a piece of theatre, cliché is often chosen over originality. While I generally admire collective creation works, the time and creation investment is often seen in the work, with this piece it seemed vacant. With the high technical demands (each scene demands a full stage overhaul) I wonder how much time was actually put into the development of the script. I normally love surrealism and the use of theatrical tricks (smoke, disappearing characters, floating set pieces) but here it seemed to be trying to mask the characters and weak story.
I completely understand the mass appeal and joy a show like this can give, it is very easy to watch in many ways.  I left wondering what this two-and-a-half hour show (without intermission) was trying to say to me that had not been said many times before. 

Pique runs Jan 14-25 at TOHU  

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