Saturday, January 23, 2010

White Russians

Akhe Theatre's White Cabin, playing at Performance Works on Granville Island as part of this year's PuSh Festival, defies adequate description. But this visually stunning and fantastically surreal show sure makes for magical theatre.

It begins with a woman sitting alone at a table upstage right, a notebook open before her, and a small film projector displaying a series of black and white images on a white T-shirt pinned to the backstage curtain. The lights dim and the woman gradually moves downstage centre, where an empty chair awaits, positioned with its back to the audience. The woman sits down, and observes with us as two clown-like figures enter, one kitted out in newspapers and chewing bubble-gum, the other with a halo of incense sticks glowing from atop his head. Thereafter a series of non-narrative scenes unfold: the chewing gum becomes a cat's cradle; a ping pong ball floats magically across the stage; wine and champagne bottles are opened and drunk from in increasingly unique ways; the woman is tied up, untied, and then "entwined" with each of the men in a series of physical tableaux; and many many cigarettes are lit (and occasionally smoked).

All of this culminates in three white cloth panels descending from the rafters, each with its centre square cut out to reveal a Russian doll-like configuration of theatrical mises-en-abŷme. As the three performers (Maxim Isaev, Andrey Sizintsev, and Natalia Shamina) continue to stage their mad and madcap encounters with each other and the myriad objects in their possession within and between the panels, Oleg Mykhailov's video installation (a mix of designed and found footage, including many black and white archival images) is projected onto the panels, creating a beguiling and dream-like visual palimpsest of live and mediated images.

We are reminded, necessarily, of the piece's opening. And I am reminded, in this regard, that Eisenstein's great experiments in montage, perfected on film, actually began in the theatre. Eisenstein knew a thing or two about the detritus of Russian history, and exiting the performance space last night, the studio stage littered with the remnants of Akhe's latest "engineering" project, I thought that only theatre--a medium whose sole artifact is disappearance--could represent so powerfully what gets left on the cutting room floor.

White Cabin runs for two more performances today only: at 4 and 8 pm. Don't miss it.


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