Unique multimedia experience arrives on the Toronto stage
Reflector is Theatre Gargantua’s opening production of their 25th season, and the play is at the heart of the company’s goal of exploring compelling subjects in their multi-discipline style. You understand that goal as soon as you walk into the theatre, with various large projections of photographs that flip through a wide variety of images behind four microphone stands on the main stage at Theatre Passe Muraille.
The play is a dreamlike story filled with moments of real connectivity between the characters and interpretative performance pieces. There are three people: Declan (played by Michael Spence) who is a photojournalist having issues seeing physical items; Roula (played by Michelle Polak), living with a perfect memory of everything that has happened to her; and Kelly (played by Louisa Zhu), a video blogger sensation dealing with a virtual sense of the world intentionally or otherwise seeking help. The man they sought that help from was Dr. Haddad (played by Abraham Asto) is the psychiatrist and neuroscientist who grounds them all together as he explores their suffering and tries to help them sort out their issues.
Woven between these moments are dream-like physical sequences of dance, sound, and light as the screens are constantly shifting to create new platforms for the projections to rest, and new scenes for the characters to interact with each other. The stage is constantly moving and shifting, making itself almost part of the performance as well. Perfectly so, because it never gets in the way, and doesn’t pull away from the performances.
The best performance belonged to Michelle Polka’s Roula. She was constantly walking the line of someone who talked too candidly about her life, but it never felt forced. No matter what funny thing she was saying, I always had this empathy with the character as I watched her navigating how her condition affects her. She plays particularly well off of Abraham Asto’s Dr. Haddad. He plays the perfect mixture of scientifically curious, as well as compassionate, which links all the characters together.
Louisa Zhu always drew my attention whenever there was an ensemble movement piece. Everything she did had an extra edge, seemed to be a little bit sharper, and felt like it was coming from a deeper place. I noted Zhu’s performance in particular, because she made for some bright moments when the multimedia dream-esque sequences were less than enthralling.
The multimedia elements themselves were uneven overall, with some soaring and pulling me in and others pushing me back and out of the play. Great moments like Zhu’s character introduction scene for Kelly. I felt drawn in, while she spouted several bars of verse on few breaths to an audience of tablets. The first time the cast did a dance re-enactment of the violence within Declan’s controversial photo.
Other times, I would be full of emotion after watching a powerful moment between characters, and then be pulled out of it by the multimedia experience. Sometimes, I would feel like I had seen something before and started wondering why we were doing this again.
Thankfully this un-evenness doesn’t take away from the play as a whole. The strong multi-media parts are strong and powerful, and the performances create moments that are wonderful, poignant, touching, sweet, funny and sympathetic. You really do feel for their problems, even the ones that they don’t feel that they have.
Which is why I would recommend going to see Reflector, even if you aren’t someone who feels that they would enjoy a multi-media experience. The performers do such a wonderful job making you care about what’s going on with them that you’re drawn into the story. Even if the dance, projections and sounds aren’t appealing to you right now, they will be drawn into what is happening. Of course, if you love theatre that incorporates heavy technology, projection and sound then you will definitely want to see Reflector.
- Reflector is playing at Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace (16 Ryerson St) until November 18th.
- Shows run Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 pm with school matinee’s available to be scheduled
- Ticket prices range from $24-$28 (with a discount to $20-$25 for students, seniors, and arts workers)
- For more details visit the Theatre Gargantua website
Photo of Louisa Zhu by Michael Cooper.