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.