>GRAND HOTEL by Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon

>reviewed by kerryn chan

>date: 27 apr 1998
>time: 8pm
>venue: the victoria theatre
>rating: unrated

>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.

>>>>>putting on the ritz

A dark stage, only a small area lit beautifully in sepia tones, bare minimal set comprising of a bed, a bureau, two doors, one leading to the closet, and two windows - thus, an unassuming setting for a multimedia production. Where were the hanging video cameras and multitude of television sets that have qualified so many local productions as multimedia performances? These equipment were plainly missing from sight, but the final product was by no means plain.

Grand Hotel of Strangers is the creation of Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon, two of Canadaís foremost multidisciplinary artists, based on the poetry of the same title by Claude Beausoleil. In their own words, they proclaimed that "their work is rooted in the integration and the invisibility of several media: theatre, set design, cinema, video, dance, poetry, visual arts, lighting, music or soundscape". Together, this duo have created Le Souffle de Pythagore, Voix de passage, Le Grand Defile de Nuit (a fabulous night parade which opened the festivities of the 350th Anniversary of Montreal, attended by 250,000 people), and numerous other multimedia shows for various venues and artists.

After a successful premiere at the Montrealís Musee díart contemporain in 1994, Grand Hotel of Strangers later toured across Canada, New York, Dallas, Houston and Minneapolis. This production is now on its second tour covering the Kennedy Centre in Washington DC, Annenberg Centre in Philadelphia, and Singapore.

As the play opened, a bellhop entered this nondescript room in an hotel with a bag, followed by its owner. After minimal conversation, the bellhop exited. A scrim hanging loosely in front of this small performing area was drawn back, which effected the unveiling of the lone manís psyche. This simple act also gave the audience a false sense that the scrim was removed; by the time the first images shimmered oo stage, we never knew if it was a projection onto a second scrim or a projection of holographic images.

>>'The lines between a play and a movie were blurred to the extent that I had to remind myself on numerous occasions that I was indeed in a theatre watching a play'

Boxed up in total blackness, the lines between a play and a movie were blurred to the extent that I had to remind myself on numerous occasions that I was indeed in a theatre watching a play. Included with the depth of excellent sound design which gave stereo life to the actorsí voices and the haunting voices that the man heard in his head, I was feeling voyeuristic, like someone on the outside looking into a strangerís private quarters.

Unfortunately, the premise of the play was not set up immediately. We knew that this grown adult had an unhealthy obsession with his dead mother (he carried a photo of her during his travels). However, we were not privy to the causes that led to his hallucinations, his nightmares, which left many unanswered questions. Why was he so pained? Why was he so tormented? What happened when he was a child? Who were the faces that floated in and out of his dreams?

Nevertheless, the excellent visual holographic images, vivid in their rendering, more than substituted for this lack of knowledge on our part. Whilst they were projected, they all retained a third dimensional quality that gave them life, which one found amissed in most projected images. One also cannot fault with precision of these floating forms. In one scene, a woman figure floated into the room with a crying infant in one arm and a bag in her other hand. She placed the bag on top of the real bed, opened it and placed the child in it. After closing the bag, she moved across the room to the window, and peered out. Bear in mind that this woman is merely an image, no more real than the air she walked on. However, the accuracy of her motions, the exact placement of the bag on the bed, the angle at which she peered out the window - all of these details gave life to this holographic image, so real that it had me leaning out of my seat up in the circle.

Actors Gaetan Gringras and Serge Lamirande delivered their respective roles with conviction. Gringras was particularly effective as the tormented man, who could not get sound sleep; whenever he went off to slumber-land, images from his past returned to torment him - images of his mother, an old man holding a bunch of keys and various disembodied faces. Even after he had awakened from these nightmares, these forms still appeared to him, drove him out of his mind; where did illusion end, and where did reality begin for him? Lamirande played his small but integral part with much aplomb, as the bellhop who needed to be tipped for every little job that he did.

Another astounding moment happened when a metallic cell-door appeared, and was opened by the buoyant image of a woman. Gringras stepped into the blackness of the cell, and the door was shut tight behind him with a loud metallic clank! The reality was so convincing that we actually believed Gringras stepped out of the stage, because we could not discern any shadow of his presence behind this projection.

Clever lighting work gave the plain wooden walls of the room many varied hues and texture. Further projections against the walls of the room with alcoves of a church was one example where an eye for detail made the most interesting presentation; these projections were in the correct perspective of the room, where only the walls had these alcove designs and the floor remained visibly untouched.

Kudos must be given to set designer Andre Archambault, music composers Grabrielle Roth & The Mirrors and Michel Lemieux, lighting designer Alain Lortie and sound effects designer Joan Levasseur. The complete cohesion of all these various aspects into a total whole made this particular production an outstanding one, so stunning visually and aurally. Indeed Lemieux and Pilon put it best when they commented that the "multidisciplinary art is above all an art of integration". They are the true masters of their art-form.

At the end of the evening, it was Gringras who stole the show with so much feeling in a character that spoke so little, together with Lemieux and Pilon, and their creative team. As a supporter of mainstream theatre, and never having fully appreciated multidisciplinary art, I have been converted!