Photo: Andrew Alexander . from left to right: Marc-André Charette, Emmanuel Simon, Gabriel Lalonde, Front: Annie Lefebvre, Leah Archambault, Mekdes Teshome.
How could one name this performance that is now running at the Gladstone?? It could be docudrama; it could be multi-disciplinary theatre; it could be corporeal theatre although the text is central to the event; it could be verbatim theatre, or even socially engaged theatre that goes for the jugular as it tries to transform our culture in the same way R. Schechner and J. Beck in the 1970’s hoped to do with their political and ritual performances. Perhaps, it also wants to make people aware that many individuals are living in a “war zone” when it comes to sexual violence in our society. In fact it’s a bit of all that. A huge agenda that might seem almost overwhelming for director Jessica Ruano who also wrote the script, for the choreographer who conceived the movement portions, and for the actors who had to shift moods, narratives and characters nonstop during 75 minutes!
And yet the result is a very powerful performance. Working with a choreographer and a theatre director who integrate their own visions of space, voice and movement into the traumatic encounters examined by this text, six actors/dancers take us swirling away into a contemporary nightmare world that has cultivated rape culture. A portion of the script resembles a seminar, an outpouring of facts, shocking statistics, which reveal the extent of the problem. Another portion brings us into intimate personal encounters between individuals, family members, women and men in the work place, at school, involving all segments of society, men as well as women, gay as well as straight, black and white.
The first most disturbing discovery is that abused individuals feel there is no recourse because our judicial system has not come to terms with the extent of the problem, it refuses to deal effectively with these questions which too often remain unspoken, repressed, avoided like some shameful secret that is left to burrow deeply into the psyche of the survivors. And the results can be traumatic.
Take the male adult played by Marc-André Charette who tells us his character’s story of being abused by his math teacher , He weaves his story throughout the evening as the situation evolves, as the teacher continues his abuse, as the mother even encourages him to go to these cottage weekends with the prof because she can’t pick up the signals of abuse and then we hear the of the developing trauma as it becomes more and more destructive, continuing even when the abuse stops. An enormous range of all manner of sexual violence is revealed in these verbatim outpourings all based on what the writer heard during her 41 interviews. Each actor assumes multiple voices that tell their own stories and the intensity of this is often so great that we begin to wonder if the actor isn’t telling his or her own story.
Thanks to the fine ear and great sensitivity of director Ruano, the speaking voices retain their theatrical distance, avoid the overly authoritative didactic delivery or tearful sentimentality which was always possible but because of the emotionally intent content, there is no need for heightened theatricality. In fact that would certainly have weakened the impact of all the performances. Each actor /dancer moved with great precision, harnessing his (her) own body parts to express another level of feeling that went beyond the spoken words. In this case the physical expression worked very well. It is clear that the interaction between Amelia Griffin’s choreography that accompanied Jessica Ruano’s staging , brought a new dimension to the text and in most instances, the body in space contributed to the story telling, offering a corporeal language corresponding to the verbal language.
What about the girl who is terrified by the game playing at home where her step-father inappropriately touches her. Dad defends himself….”but I want you to be afraid of men” and In any case , “f you speak no one will ever believe you and it will kill your mother” such blackmail through guilt is the worst of power games. At that point, the dramatic effect of Benoît Brunet Poirier’s lighting design where ominous shadows grow along the wall, shows all its power and we barely make out the dark mass of moving bodies that gather around the girl to smother her. On many occasions the light converges with the moving shadows to construct a whole scenario that adds much to the monologues, especially when the actors are talking directly to the audience. At other moments, especially near the beginning , there was often a tangle of movement with flailing arms, twisting torsos, apparently moving for the sake of moving which distracted from the voices,or even drowned them in activity. We should not have that sense of competition which emerged at times. The movement cannot become a distraction nor does the performance want to create a feeling of competition because is has to be clear that the text, which is the result of enormous research, does dominate. The artists must never lose sight of that. Frozen moments could be useful in such cases, moments that belong to Avant- grade theatrical conventions inspired by Japanese theatre, if only to assure harmony between the meanings produced by the speaking voices and the corporeal work: physicality not for its own sake but for the way it heightens the whole experience. In such cases the director might even emphasize the orchestration of voices around the text itself while other bodies orchestrate sounds. They tried this at several points and it worked well. Watch for the moment when the young man was obsessed by approaching footsteps that became louder and louder as all the members of the company tapped on their desks, creating an ominous vibration of footstep-like echos.
Many questions emerged from this performance that were extremely important. Is violence fluid and subjective? How does one recognize the games that don’t work when one person does not consent? Such thinking could be dangerous and yet desire is like a high that cannot be avoided. Ignoring the question is to misunderstand the difference between pathological violence of the kind related to Paul Bernardo that cannot be cured, and other acts due to ignorance and poor education, or even psychological problems. In these cases, such behavior can be treated. There is a line which cannot be crossed, to avoid such traumatic moments and underdstand what is unacceptable.
The play had a circular structure which usually indicates that nothing has changed, that no progress has been made but it worked in a different way. It was clear that the piece did have a cathartic effect on women in the audience, even some men and isn’t that the true function of theatre? . Catharsis brings transformation, even if it comes with sadness, recognition, tears, as well as memories one would prefer to forget. Even if outwardly, the play is not intended to be therapeutic but still, the subject matter is so personal and so intimately linked to many unmanageable feeling that it cannot help but become a means of liberation, part of a long healing process, since it allows those watching to talk back at the end. The final post-show discussion lead by Ruano and Griffin proved this very clearly.
The Ghomeshi Effect written and directed by Jessica Ruano. The show continues until January 28, at the Gladstone. Time 7h30
Choreographed by Amelia Griffin
Lighting design: Benoît Brunet-Poirier
Sound design: Martin Dawagne
Floor Design: Mique Michelle
Cast: Leah Archambault, Marc-André Charette, Gabrielle Lalande, Annie Lefebvre, Emmanuel Simon, Mekdes Teshome.