Review: The Full Light of Day (Luminato/Electric Company Theatre/Canadian Stage)

Photo of Gabrielle Rose and Jim Mezon by Don LeeA new show using cinematic techniques in live theatre is now in Toronto as part of Luminato

Vancouver’s Electric Company Theatre has returned to Toronto with their new show, The Full Light of Day, co-presented by Canadian Stage and the Luminato Festival. The company is known for its innovative shows like Tear the Curtain! and Studies in Motion that blend live projections overlaid on top of the action on stage. Their new show continues that tradition but I was curious to see if they would bring anything new to the table this time.

Written by Daniel Brooks and directed by Kim Collier, The Full Light of Day, centres on Mary (Gabrielle Rose), the aging matriarch of a wealthy family of real estate developers. She suspects her husband Harold (Jim Mezon) has amassed the family wealth via illicit means and becomes increasingly bothered by that fact.

Like their previous shows, The Full Light of Day employs the language of film. Scenes are visual and often action-oriented, the performances are highly naturalistic and the dialogue is direct. At various points throughout the show the audio design features a tension track underscoring the scenes to heighten the intrigue. It’s all very cinematic. 

The live projections and production design are sleekly executed but what was groundbreaking for the company’s earlier productions doesn’t have the same wow-factor it did five or ten years ago. Projections are commonplace in theatrical production design now and the show’s creators were right to shift the emphasis away from the projections so the show doesn’t feel gimmicky.

However, where I felt the emphasis on the film elements really did impact the show was in the performances. The technique for acting in film is very different than the technique for theatre and the performances in The Full Light of Day tend toward the former. The camera often zooms to get tight shots of actors’ faces which are then projected onto the set, so the performers resort to the sort of subtle acting for film rather than the stylistically exaggerated acting used in theatre. Similarly, the actors are mic’ed allowing them to speak in a natural-sounding low tone of voice rather than projecting to fill the auditorium. 

Unfortunately, I thought the overall effect of the film-style acting came off feeling subdued, low-energy, and somehow detached in the theatre. Combined with the languid, slow-burn pacing, I thought some scenes really dragged and the show felt overly long. I wonder if it’d work better as a tight, 100-minute, one act.

Tonally, I also thought the show was all over the board to the point where I wasn’t sure what kind of show they were going for at times. There are tantalizing hints dropped about corruption and mob violence, clandestine meetings, and shady characters but ultimately the intrigue ended up being a lot of buildup with no payoff. 

The show circles around themes of power and corruption. There are sweeping shots of the various condo towers that make up the Toronto skyline and the show is set against the backdrop of the city’s runaway real estate boom but there was no hard-hitting message about the power and privilege of the protagonists.

About two-thirds of the way through, it comes into focus that the show is really a character study of the aging mother. However, I don’t think her character arc was established effectively enough in the earlier part of the show so I couldn’t really empathize with her in the latter half. 

Another thing I found odd; the show features a large ensemble of actors who are essentially “extras” in the background but principle actors still doubled so many roles that I found it confusing at times. Also, using the same actor in multiple roles is a theatre convention that feels awkward in a production that’s so firmly established in the convention of film.

Overall, I thought The Full Light of Day had some impressive design elements but it was weighed down by an unfocused, overly-long script and I had trouble connecting with it. 

Details:

  • The Full Light of Day is playing from June 7 – 13, 2019 at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts’ Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front Street E) as part of the Luminato Festival.
  • Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and Wednesday at 1:30 p.m.
  • Tickets $51 – $111; Student/Youth, Under 30, and Arts Worker discounts available
  • Tickets are available in person at the venue box office, by phone at 416-368-3110 or online. 

Photo of Gabrielle Rose and Jim Mezon by Don Lee

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