PANAMANIA presents the premiere of 887 by Robert Lepage in Toronto
887, the newest play written, designed, directed and performed by Canadian theatre wizard Robert Lepage makes its premiere in Toronto as part of PANAMANIA, the 35-day arts and culture festival presented as part of the Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games.
887 is the ultimate memory play in that it examines the very nature of memory itself. Lepage recounts personal stories from his childhood growing up in Quebec City and sets them against the backdrop of the big moments in Quebec history at the time like the infamous visit by French President Charles “Vive le Québec libre” de Gaulle and the October Crisis. It’s a kaleidoscope of personal remembrances and collective memory.
Lepage tells his stories in dulcet tones over two hours with no intermission. A long, autobiographical one-man show like this would come off as a self-indulgent bore in the hands of a lesser theatre artist. However, with Lepage, we’re witnessing a master storyteller and a master theatre artist practising his craft.
The way the individual threads of his story come together to weave a vivid tapestry is nothing short of magical. I was surprised at how well Lepage held my attention throughout the entire show; no small feat given the length. Throughout his incredible marathon solo performance Lepage engages the emotions and intellect in equal measure.
There’s an intimacy in 887 that’s largely absent from Lepage’s previous work, likely because it’s his most personal show to date. His memories of his World War II veteran father who drove a cab to support his family and his grandmother who suffered from Alzheimers and had to move in to live with his family are deeply personal and affecting.
An overarching theme of the show is how the nature of memory is evolving in the digital age. Lepage is known for his use of technology in his shows and 887 is no different.
The main set-piece is a doll house-like miniature of the apartment block the playwright lived in as a child. Screens set inside the windows are used to animate the miniature to dazzling effect. Lepage wields his smartphone throughout and often uses the camera to create live films of the miniatures which I thought was a clever trick.
The set also transforms in a staggering array of configurations and yet the transitions are fluid and the technology never insists on itself the way it does in many of Lepage’s previous shows, where I thought the technological elements felt more prominent. In 887, the polymorphic set and video elements really feel like tools used to enhance Lepage’s storytelling.
Ultimately, 887 is a beautiful meditation on the nature of memory. It’s a piece of nostalgia that’s also intellectually engaging and sleekly executed. I suspect it won’t be to everyone’s liking; after all, it is a two-hour one-hander, but I really thought it was remarkable and original and I enjoyed it immensely.
- 887 is playing from July 14 to 19, 2015 at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front St. E)
- Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m.
- Tickets $30 – $100
- Tickets are available in person at the venue box office or online.
Photo of Robert Lepage provided by the company.