Review: Soulseek (Birdland Theatre)

by Dorianne Emmerton

When I first walked into the Walmer Centre Theatre to see Birdland Theatre’s SoulSeek I wasn’t sure what I was seeing: was the back of the stage covered in a multitude of different sized crosses because the building is a repurposed church or was that part of the set?

Turns out it’s part of the set. It must have been a lot of work to prepare: there were hundreds of white crosses suspended to cover the entire back wall. It is just one example of the massive amount of preparation that was obviously put into SoulSeek. Director Stefan Dzeparoski has embraced multi-media to an impressive extent for a non-profit theatre company like Birdland Theatre.

The white crosses on the back wall are a backdrop for projected video that has been considerably and carefully manipulated for various dream-like effects. After all, this is the story of a woman descending into the underworld guided by none other than Morpheus, played by Andre Sills. He and the woman, Vita, played by Zorana Kydd (also the Artistic Director of Birdland Theatre), are also dressed entirely in white, often using their own bodies as surfaces for projection.

Morpheus moves two screens and a video camera on a tripod around a circular rail. He also carries a remote control that he uses to ‘control’ the projections, including some real-time video of the action on stage, projected onto the back wall.

Vita is a television actress whose husband, Terry, died. She tried to go on with her life and career but eventually could not handle a world without Terry and attempted suicide. Since they sometimes reference her “lying in a bed above”, I assume the attempt wasn’t quite successful and she is now in a coma. Either way, the play begins with her awakening in the underworld and the action of the play is her traversing its depths searching for Terry.

During her search we hear a lot about afterlife myths of various cultures, particularly Greek, and a lot about her relationship with Terry including some infidelities. We do get to meet Terry, played by David Ferry, via video projections. A fourth character, the Death Goddess portrayed by Janet Porter, is also only seen on video.

Throughout the entire piece there is ambient music in the background and Vita’s long monologues are spoken softly in a hypnotic rhythm. In a way this is very successful because it is very evocative; in another way it works against the piece because it makes it hard to pay attention to what she’s actually saying.

During one long section about traveling with Charon for thousands of years on the River Styx, the sound of waves lapping against a shore plays along with the ambient music. Soft water sounds are known to be a sleeping aid and each time I shook myself awake I looked around and could see I wasn’t the only one nodding off.

Luckily these dreamier sequences are punctuated by funny segments such as news reports from hell and episodes of ‘SoulSeek’ – the reality TV show about Vita’s life. Andre Sills delivery, in many aspects but especially as a reality TV host, is bound to make you smile and chuckle. I’m sure he’s capable of much more in the way of comedy but this play is too meditative to be laugh-out-loud.

What Vita ultimately learns on her journey isn’t anything you can’t find on the back of any book in the self-help section but you don’t see SoulSeek for the moral, you see it for visual and aural pleasure. Multi-media theatre is still in its child stage but SoulSeek lets us know that adolescence is on its way.

Details:
Soulseek by Birdland Theatre is at the Walmer Centre Theatre, 188 Lowther Ave
-It runs from October 7th to the 23rd, shows are Monday through Saturday at 8 pm
-Tickets are $30 (Students/Seniors $20)
-For tickets call 416-504-7529 or buy them online at www.artsboxoffice.ca or www.totix.ca, or in person at the T.O. TIX booth at Yonge-Dundas Square, or at the door