Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,

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Photo Nicola-Frank Vachon

“Needles and Opium,” written and directed by Robert Lepage in an English translation by Jenny Montgomery, is nothing short of mesmerizing. Lepage, often referred to as a theatrical wizard, has used mixed media to combine the stories of three characters’ search for relief from their various addictions.

The three are Jean Cocteau, who returned to Paris in 1949 both fascinated and disenchanted by his first visit to New York, Miles Davis, who in the same year made his first visit to Paris and fell in love with French chanteuse Juliette Greco, and forty years later Robert, a lonely Quebecois desperately trying to free himself from his addiction to his former lover. He needs, as the script says, “sentimental detoxification.”

Well, that’s the gist of it, but referring to “Needles and Opium” as mixed media doesn’t do it justice. The action takes place in a large cube with three sides open that rotates and turns. Walls become floors which become ceilings, windows and doors open, close and disappear. Projections magically transform the cube, among other things, to hotel rooms, recording studios, deserted alleys and what looks like outer space.

The brilliant Marc Labreche plays both Cocteau and Robert, who appear and disappear through doors, windows and mid-air. He’s especially good in Robert’s scene in the recording studio. Unfortunately Cocteau’s very heavy French accent makes him difficult to understand. One line that struck me, though, was his comment on addicts who, get treatment just to get treatment and refuse to heal.” Wellesley Robertson III appears as a physically adept Miles Davis. He doesn’t speak, but we hear plenty of music.

“Needles and Opium” is intellectual and technical theatre as opposed to linear realism. The projections, video, acrobatics, music, sound, lighting and the actors all come together to make beautifully theatrical storytelling. Even the opening costume is a projection. The entire backstage crew is called out to share in the curtain call, and rightly so.

Robert Lepage has won a multitude of international theatre awards. He’s perhaps best known to Americans as the director of Cirque du Soliel’s “Ka” currently running in Las Vegas, and various productions for the Metropolitan Opera. This is a limited run, having already played at the NAC in French. Don’t miss the opportunity to see this unique and magical production.

Needles and Opium produced by Ex Machina at NAC English Theatre through June 6

CREATIVE TEAM

Robert Lepage – writer/director

Jenny Montgomery – English Translation

Normand Bissinnette – Assistant Director

Carl Fillion – Set Designer

Claudia Gendreau – Props Designer

Jen-Sebastien Cote – Music & Sound Designer

Francois St- Aubin – Costume Designer

Lionel Arnould – Images Designer

CAST

Marc Labreche: Jean Cocteau, Robert

Wellesley Robertson III: Miles Davis