Review: Cage (Soulpepper)

Toronto’s Soulpepper presents the avant-garde theatre piece Cage as part of its new Solo Series

Every time I go to an art gallery, there’s always the weird room. You know the one I’m talking about: the dark room with black and white projections, noise music or static playing over the speakers. It’s the room that you walk into and think “what the hell is this?” but you feign interest if you’re on a date.

Cage is being put on by Soulpepper at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until March 25th. To me, it was a lot like the weird room at the art gallery, only instead of leaving after a few minutes, I watched it for an hour. I’m glad I did though; because regardless of my personal preferences going into it, I concede that this is a challenging piece that delicately toes the line between theatre and performance art.

Cage is the first in Soulpepper‘s Solo Series. A collection of works being put on from now until May 2017. Cage is one of four shows, and it is the brainchild of Diego Matamoros, the main performer, as well as Lorenzo Savoini and Richard Feren, both of whom appear onstage as well.

It’s tough to review something like Cage because it breaks the conventions of what we’re used to seeing in the theatre. There are elements of this show that I can say were excellently done. Diego Matamoros’ central performance for instance certainly buttressed his impressive skill-set. When he played an ape (which I imagined to be a chimp) in the large plexiglass cage; it was close to perfection.

The lighting on the cage could be an exhibit in itself. The way that Lorenzo Savoini and the rest of the production team use light and shadow is quite beautiful and complements Richard Feren’s musical direction that emphasizes the absence of sound in exploring the works of composer John Cage, from whom the play takes its name and a great deal of inspiration.

But truth be told, my guest and I agreed afterwards that to us, the show is not much greater than the sum of its parts, even if they are interesting parts. Through a Neo-Futuristic series of scenes, each lasting 4 minutes and 33 seconds exactly in the vein of John Cage’s most famous avant-garde composition, 4’33”, Cage asks existential questions that touch on a range of topics: physics, Zen, psychology and more.

Some of the scenes stood out more than others. I was particularly taken by Matamoros’ aforementioned stint as an ape, as well as a story he shared that gives the impression of drawing on personal experience (whether it does, I don’t know). But some moments seemed less genuine, even trite at times. Reciting a physics equation in a tone that implies depth doesn’t really do it for me.

But I suppose that’s the beauty of this show’s conceit, by not limiting themselves by following a narrative, the creators present a series of differing moments that will impact audience members in different ways and to different degrees.

So you’ve got some neat lighting, philosophical musings, a look into the origins of noise music, and a great ape performance; but is that something you’d pay to see? Cage is undoubtedly going to be divisive. Because the people that like the “weird room” in the art gallery will probably like this as well, and then some people such as myself will be grateful if you sit them down and force them to appreciate it.

But what about the people that don’t go to art galleries? Noises Off and Kim’s Convenience this is not; clearly Cage is a show that will likely only appeal to a small subset of theatre-goers. In the promotional video, Matamoros talks about how Cage breaks new ground for the company. It’s certainly different than anything Soulpepper has done before. It may not mesh perfectly with my tastes, but I appreciated it nonetheless and my guest had similar sentiments. It makes me excited for the next three pieces in the Solo Series.

Details:

  • Cage is playing at Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane) until Mar 25, 2017
  • Shows are at 8:00 PM
  • Tickets from $32 – can be purchased online or at the door
  • Run time is approximately 70 min, with no intermission
  • Some audience participation

Image of Diego Matamoros by Cylla von Tiederman.