>GEOMETRY OF MIRACLES by Robert Lepage

>reviewed by kerryn chan

>date: 17 jun 1999
>time: 8pm
>venue: victoria theatre
>rating: ****

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

                           
>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.
 

>>>>>HAIL LEPAGE

The first time I saw the name Robert Lepage was in the movie "Le Confessional", which he directed. This film opened the 1995 Singapore International Film Festival, after having its premier at the opening night gala of the 1995 Toronto International Film Festival. Needless to say, that movie blew me away with the way Lepage layered images, telling a most complex story in a most captivating way. Would you believe it that "Le Confessional" was Lepage's first foray into film? I would say that that was quite a sensational debut!

Canadian Lepage's name popped up again last year when my friend who was then living in London mentioned "The Seven Streams of the River Ota", a brilliant multimedia stage work that played on two consecutive nights for a complete show. In 1996, when this work opened at the National Theatre in London, The Times loudly proclaimed Lepage's ingenuity in the following accolade: "What director but Lepage could have concocted so wonderfully quirky a scene? None." In that same year, Lepage presented this work on Broadway at the Majestic Theater to resounding success as well.

GEOMETRY OF MIRACLES relates the life story of Frank Lloyd Wright, hailed as the master of modern Western architecture, and how it interrelates with that of George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, one of 20th century's foremost philosophers. Why then was this piece titled GEOMETRY OF MIRACLES ? In search for the intersection between materialism and spirituality, Wright and Gurdjieff tried to put mathematical formulae to events that defied scientific explanations. One main theme running through the play was that of the individual against that of the collective, one against all.

The presentation of this piece was also segmented into different parts, in chronological order as well as by geometric shapes (triangle, square, etc). One could delve deep into the significance of these shapes in relation to Wright's life in that particular period, and study the relationship between his personal development and growth as an architect to them. It would be an almost inexhaustible search for underlying motivations, not only with Wright and Gurdjieff, but also with Lepage for the presentation. However, as an uninformed member of the audience, I would prefer to just sit back and watch the show without getting too bogged down by such thoughts, which would merely detract from the enjoyment and total immersion that this work required.

>>'Lepage has been honoured many times over for his vision and creative talent, and he deserves every one of them'

This production certainly lived up to all I expected from Lepage - totally visual and aural simultaneously, seamless movements between scenes, imaginative settings and stage, stylish and synchronised choreography. The stage design was interesting and simple; sand represented what Wright believed to be the basic teaching tool to his students and his ideas of organic architecture. I have also never seen a folding table used in so many ways - one moment it was a piano, next it represented a car, then bunk-beds. Mechanical assistance was used extremely discreetly; the movement of the folding table, gliding and swiveling across the stage, was in itself poetry in motion. Stage lighting was kept to bare minimum; it nevertheless captured moods extremely effectively, both in and outdoors. One of the most astonishing elements in this production was the tremendous amount of costumes; costume changes were very quick, on and off-stage, covering a period from the roaring twenties to the modern eighties precisely. In fact, the costumes alone would have informed the audience of each particular period of Wright's life that was being featured. My utmost respect to the creative team of Carl Fillion (Set Design), Eric Fauque (Lighting Design), Marie-Chantale Vaillancourt (Costume Design) and Jacques Collin (Multimedia Design) for strengthening Lepage's work by their tremendous amount of ingenuity and vision in this work.

Interestingly, due to the rigours of the play, half of the cast on stage was made up of dancers by training. Unlike other regular playwrights, Lepage works his pieces as a collaborative process with his performers, and as such gives due credit to all of them as co-creators of the work; GEOMETRY OF MIRACLES is no different. Except for Anthony Howell and Catherine Tardif who did not perform this time, ensemble members Tea Alagic, Daniel Belanger, Jean-Francois Blanchard, Marie Brassard, Denis Gaudreault, Tony Guilfoyle, Rick Miller, Catherine Martin, Kevin McCoy, Thaddeus Phillips and Rodrigue Proteau were all given due recognition for their involvement in the creative birthing of this work. Most of these artistes have been working closely with Lepage in the past, both in his stage productions and films.

Whilst understanding the motivation for this work to be an ensemble piece, I wished that a more complete cast list was printed, as I would like to be able to identify these actors for their individual strengths in portrayal. The actress playing Mrs Olgivanna Wright, Frank's third wife, was a strong, stoic woman, by far the most captivating woman on stage; I was instantly reminded of Fernanda Montenegro in her Oscar-nominated role in the movie "Central Station". Frank Lloyd was depicted like a brash Mid-Western American, who speaks his mind with willful conviction. Beelzebub was excellently modeled by a sinewy actor, complete with low rumbles of unidentifiable tongues in tri-tones of Tibetan lamas. This same actor had the distinction to embody the philosopher Gurdjieff, in his encounters with the Wright family, when Olgivanna started subscribing to his Fourth Way esoteric teachings and instructions.

All other actors had moments to shine and share the limelight. As Wright's son-in-law and heir apparent to lead his Fellowship, Wes was uncomfortably thrusted into a position, which he did not want, in a group, which he felt estranged. Wright's elder daughter who was tragically killed in an automobile accident was charming and gentleness personified, whilst his younger one was spoilt and attention seeking.

Inasmuch as the actors were phenomenal singularly, opportunities to mesh them together into a cohesive whole gave a more resounding impact, as evidenced in their well constructed, choreographed motions. The resonance of Gurdjieff's exposition rang loud in such motions because he believed that there is a delicate balance of finding individuality within the collective. The construction, deconstruction and reconstruction of such scenes lend a very palpable momentum in the work, very much organic and alive as the architecture and designs of Wright's own creations.

Lepage has been honoured many times over for his vision and creative talent, and he deserves every one of them. Personally, this work has confirmed one nagging suspicion that I have had for a long time - Lepage IS a genius! For those who did not manage to catch this production, try to watch any of Lepage's films - "Le Confessional", "The Polygraph" and most recently, "The Seven Streams of the River Ota" - and you will see why Lepage deserves all the accolades that has been lauded upon him.