In this postmodern time of fluctuating categories and unstable definitions, it becomes exceedingly difficult to pass judgement on recent works of art because there are few fixed categories that allow us to define anything. Everything is defined by its own logic and this is what happens when one is faced with Post Eden by Jordan Tannahill who rejects theatre practice that has preceded his own research. The only way to react to this piece is to let ones emotions flow and say “that made me feel good”, it was “fun” , it was “entertaining” or else that was irritating I didn’t like it, even though I can’t really say why. Those kinds of remarks are self-indulgent and not useful if one is trying to understand what Tannahill is doing.
We might begin with an interview published by Patrick Langston in the Ottawa Citizen (April 14). The journalist quotes Tannahill who speaks about “taking risks” because when something is projected into a performance space that has not been carefully subjected to some form of theatrical mediation, the risk of mistakes, or confusion, or sloppiness even failure is clearly there. But all that contributes to Tannahill’s sense of theatrical “liveness” which he pushes to the ultimate degree. . Theatre is anything that happens with real people in front of an audience and by heavily mediating the actors, the production (through a specific script, direction, blocking, lighting, costumes, multi media elements, time and spatial limits, all those conventions of the stage ), theatre is no longer a situation of pure “liveness”, it becomes a construction, an entity that is false, artificial, not a place of risk-taking and Tannahill wants to take real risks.`
However, if “constructing risk” might seem like an oxymoron, it appears that this is the oxymoron is the basis of Tannahill’s ideas. What gives him his flare as a performance artist in English-speaking Canada, is his theoretical knowledge of contemporary forms of theatre, and the fact that he appears to be drawing on intermedial experiments that have been going on in Quebec for a long time because yes, in this field, Quebec theatre (not to mention the experiments of the Italian director Romeo Castellucci with physically deformed humans interacting with animals on stage, something that can change from one minute to the next) far surpass anything that has ever been done in English Canadian theatre. The intermedial work of Daniel Meilleur with the Théâtre des Deux mondes in Quebec has undertaken such research for the past 20 years. Humans interacting with film as shadows, as figures within the film while on stage in front of the audience, a figure sings or talks as the camera follows the individuals across the stage and then captures them crossing into the other medium and becoming part of the film. The different medium become unstable, they borrow from each other and new relations are built in the performance space. That is what Tannahill was doing at The Gladstone.
One of Meilleur’s most interesting pieces was a process entitled Leitmotiv which continued from 1996 to 2005. We saw it in Ottawa at the NAC.. Based on war and the destruction it causes, the event dealt with displacement and suffering. It becames a global statement about human interaction as it is filtered through these filmed and staged moments. Meilleur used actors, singers and various other performers. It had an enormous international career but Im sure that no one in Toronto was even aware of it.
No doubt the most original aspect of Post Eden is the double meaning that the title brings to the show. Tannahill projects us into the post “paradise” of Suburban life where everything is supposed to be happy and comfortable and protected and very middle class. But we see serious conflicts rumbling within the families that inhabit this beautiful little suburb with the large homes that make up the filmed background of the show. Eden is also the name of the family dog played here by a human. She is so close to the humans that they consider her a close friend, a child and even a daughter. This is the world of many people for whom pets are treated as their own children but the fact that in Tannahill’s world, there is an elusive closeness between humans and pets, linked to the uncanny feeling that birds, bats, coyotes and small animals are invading and taking over these suburban spaces. The performance, brings us even closer to the TV world of Twilight, or Bitten and those more recent small screen dramas where families living in seclusion, become packs of wolves and extremely close but dangerous links between humans and animals are the focus of the action.
Those TV shows have a 19th Century romantic component which is also suggested in Post Eden where the love for the dog is almost stronger than the mating instinct between humans as the relationships between all living creatures transform before our eyes. Tannahill’s suburban world is another projection of nature from its biblical origins to its current TV depictions which has such a strong influence on theatre nowadays and Tannahill has given it a personal twist.
However rather irritating is the almost complete lack of structure that serves as a backbone to Post Eden. The images are interesting but that interest soon wanes because they are not connected to each other in any way that goes beyond their “uncannyness” and the milieu projected on the screen. I am not speaking of a narrative, but rather of some analogical link that could be poetic, or emotional or metaphorical , which would propel us forward. It quickly becomes meandering and if risk taking means “dull” then there is no more risk.
However, Tannahill is a young man whose work has caught on because he has definitely found a popular and recognizable middle class urban milieu, to which he has given a voice and a personal interpretation using the most contemporary electronic means to advance his perception of liveness. More than that however, he has freed himself from the English Canadian obsession that theatre must be a staged representation of reality and that is a real breath of fresh air. Tannahill will certainly develop in the years to come
Post Eden plays at the Gladstone. From May 7 to 9. Show starts at 8pm
Post Eden by Jordan Tannahill
A production of Suburban Beast
Written and directed by Jason Tannahill.
With Sasha Cole, S