Review: 887 (Canadian Stage/Ex Machina)

Canadian Stage presents the return of Robert Lepage’s memory play 887 in Toronto

887 is just an extraordinary piece of theatre. Written, directed, and performed by prolific Quebec theatre artist Robert Lepage, the autobiographical solo show is his most personal to date and is in turns thought-provoking, deeply affecting, and technically dazzling.

The show is deceptively simple in form; 887 is essentially a piece of long-form narrative storytelling. Lepage addresses the audience directly in dulcet tones over the course of two intermissionless hours, and sketches out scenes from his youth growing up in Quebec City.

However, much like a master chef can create spectacular dishes with simple ingredients by being practiced at technique and doing the basics brilliantly, Lepage turns a simple storytelling exercise into a captivating piece of theatre. He completely drew me in and held my attention throughout.

887 starts off deceptively: while the house lights are still on, Lepage takes the stage to make a few opening remarks, stating that “the performance will begin in a few moments.” Except he never stops talking and almost imperceptibly, we’re slowly drawn into his narrative.

Before we know it Lepage is introducing us to the residents of 887 Avenue Murray, the apartment building where he grew up, and we’re watching historical events from the heady days of 1960s Quebec like the rise of the Quebec Nationalist movement and the October Crisis, but we experience them through the eyes of a twelve-year-old Lepage.

Like his previous shows he un-spools several story threads which eventually come together to weave a vivid tapestry.

Lepage is also known for his use of technology in his shows, and 887 features a polymorphic set piece on a revolving stage. What starts out as a miniature model of the playwright’s childhood home– brought to life by the skillful use of embedded screens–constantly transforms to create a series of locations throughout the show.

The effect is sleek and dazzling, but I also think the technological aspects in 887 are better integrated and less gimmicky than in Lepage’s previous productions.

While I’m a huge fan of Lepage’s shows and find them consistently brilliant in their execution, his works tend more toward the cerebral. I’ve found them more intellectually engaging than emotionally stimulating, whereas 887 felt deeply affecting because it’s so personal. There’s an intimacy and an openness here that sets it apart from Lepage’s previous works.

This intimacy is especially apparent when Lepage describes his relationship with his World War II veteran-turned-taxi-driver father, and when he talks about his grandmother’s steady decline due to Alzheimers. Remembrances from his childhood definitely have a sense of nostalgia but it’s perfectly balanced, never veering into sentimentality.

887 is a consummate piece of theatre and I encourage theatre-lovers to go and witness a master artist plying his craft. A two-hour solo autobiographical storytelling show could have easily been a self-indulgent exercise in tedium in the hands of a lesser theatre artist. Instead, Lepage gives us a moving memory play that is completely captivating.

Details:

  • 887 is playing from April 7 to 16, 2017 at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front St. E)
  • Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday at 1:00 p.m.
  • Tickets $35.10 – $114
  • Tickets are available in person at the venue box office or online.

Photo of Robert Lepage by Erick Labbé.

One thought on “Review: 887 (Canadian Stage/Ex Machina)”

  1. Robert LePage is nothing short of a national treasure. He has graced our stages for decades with jaw-dropping, mind-boggling shows he has created. I applaud this review for its insight and detail. It is the wonderful, wonderful experience that Erick Labbé so beautifully describes.

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