Undershaft and Lazarus‘ Exposure, currently playing at the Robert Gill Theatre as part of Toronto Fringe, bills itself as the story of the first selfie. That’s not strictly true, though it is a cute log-line. Rather, it’s the story of the first photograph ever successfully taken of a human being, back in 1838 when photography was in its infancy. If you’ve seen the picture in question, then I’d describe the show as a kind of behind-the-scenes fantasy of who that figure might be, and how he might be connected to Louis Daguerre, the inventor of the Daguerrotype process of photography. Really, it’s a great concept.
The show is a fairly equal balance of historic recreation and character ‘drama.’ If you don’t know who Louis Daguerre is, then the show will clue you in through Daguerre’s interactions with a shoe-shiner/fortune teller (yes, really) named Angelique (Laurel Paetz). It will also, however, satisfy on a dramatic level: the story of the photograph is wrapped up in smaller stories about Angelique and Louis’ failed romance, Angelique’s lost son given up for adoption, and a struggling aristocrat-slash-actor known only as Anonyme who is planning an elegant suicide.
It’s hard to discuss the story without giving too much away, because part of the fun of the play is in watching the characters slowly figure out how they’re all connected to one another. As Louis chases money to fund his invention and Anonyme drags a bag of rocks towards the Seine, they both stop at Angelique’s shoe-shining stand and find themselves baring their souls to her.
Craig Walker as Louis Daguerre has a manic intensity to him that emphasizes Daguerre’s theatrical past alongside his irrepressible genius. Paetz’ Angelique is a nice foil to Walker’s Daguerre in many ways: she can match him for gumption and intensity, but it’s the moments where she gets quiet and you can see the wheels turning in her brain that are most fun. While he’s the genius, she’s the clever one. You can see how the two could be old circus buddies (or even more than that). They’re a fun pair and their charisma alone could sell the show.
One thing I didn’t like? The last 30 seconds. I didn’t think the show needed it, and it felt like overkill in what was otherwise a bittersweet, somewhat ambiguous ending. There were also some moments (mostly with the first photograph) where I couldn’t see the projection due to the blocking. This got better as the show went along, certainly, but I had to shift around to see at times.
Despite some minor issues, I really enjoyed Exposure. I fully admit that I am the market for this show: I went into it already knowing a little about the history, and being interested in this specific period of time. Still, the audience loudly guffawed all the way through a 10:30 show, so I think there’s a particular kind of fun to be had by going in blind.
- Exposure plays at the Robert Gill Theatre (214 College St).
- Tickets for all mainstage productions are $10 at the door, cash only.
- Advance tickets are $12, and can be purchased online , by phone (416-966-1062), or from the festival box office at the Fringe Club. (Rear of Honest Ed’s, 581 Bloor St. West).
- Money-saving value packs are also available if you are going to at least five shows; see website for details.
- LATECOMERS ARE NEVER ADMITTED TO FRINGE SHOWS. To avoid disappointment, be sure to arrive a few minutes before curtain.
- Sat July 4 @ 12:30pm
- Sun July 5 @ 11:00pm
- Mon July 6 @ 5:15pm
- Wed July 8 @ 7:45pm
- Thur July 9 @ 9:15pm
- Fri July 10 @ 4:30pm