May 17th to 28th, 2011
Part play, part musical performance, part video installation, part sound experiment, part spoken word and part dance. Reverie, presented by Ghost River Theatre, has more packed into a 100 minute production than most shows can ever hope to achieve. But it’s not the packing in and layering on of mediums that makes Reverie such a unique and exciting piece of theatre. It’s that each element itself is beautifully crafted, creating a wholly immersive experience that tickles numerous intellectual sweet spots.
This is not theatre for the masses. Reverie is experimental, often odd and way outside the lines. Nor is it the kind of production you’d want to see on a regular basis. But if you are tired of safe and predictable theatre that entertains but doesn’t challenge, then this is a must see. Or at least the first act is.
The story centres on a young girl living a banal and meaningless existence working as a customer service agent in a grocery store. She, like everyone else in the cast, remains nameless throughout the play. Her days consist of taking abuse from customers and anxiously waiting for closing time so she can indulge in alcohol and drugs to help forget her life for the time being. The parties she goes to put her amongst a crowd of people, but ultimately she is alone.
Meanwhile her older sister is desperately trying to reach her by text message. Unlike her younger sister, she is completely civically engaged and ramping up for some kind of protest that we can only assume is anti-government or at least anti-authority. Despite the older sister’s pleas to join her in the cause, the younger sister will have none of it. All she wants is to numb reality away, not confront it as part of a mass protest.
The first half of the play ends with the demonstration turning violent and the older sister mysteriously missing. Once she realizes what has happened and what is still happening out on the street, the younger sister is “awoken” from her self-induced daze, and begins the search for her sister.
Had this been pure traditional storytelling, I suppose it could have been compelling enough. But the addition of video projections to mimic everything from an elevator ride, to the scenery passing by on a bus, to the reflection of the younger sister in the mirror as she’s getting ready to go out and even the wording of the older sister’s text messages on the stage wall brings a modernity and artistic cool factor that words alone could not.
Even more dramatic was the live guitar and singer that scores almost the entire first half, sometimes with just music, sometimes with a solo singer and often with the entire cast singing. And this is not musical theatre chorus-like crooning. There are no toe-tapping catchy tunes here. They songs are compelling and clever and work to move the story forward as a mixture between musical dialogue and melodic spoken word.
The dance scenes are physical and representative. An interesting added element that, while in some cases went on a little too long, brought an additional dimension to the experience and continued to challenge the audience.
It was, on every level, a brilliant first half. Which is why I was saddened to be let down by the rest of the play. And notice I say play here and not performance. The actors and musician were as electric as ever in the second half, but the storyline just fell flat for me. The quest to find her older sister in the aftermath of the “revolution” felt empty and the connection to the universal angst plotline of the first half was discarded. I understand that this was meant to be the younger sister’s baptism to the greater importance of collective dissent and a parable on the end of civilization as we know it, but it just didn’t have the emotive power it should have.
Turns out that without the right scripting or storyline, not even the cool video, smart lyrics or great acting could make me care much.
In the end though, I choose not to dwell on the second half. The good was so deliciously good that I can easily forget what didn’t move me. Reverie is daring and demanding and astonishing in its talent. And how often do you get to say that about a night out?
Side note here before the rating. Keep an eye out for Ava Jane Markus, the younger sister and star of the play. I hate the term triple-threat, but she absolutely is just that. Her acting, singing and dance/movement were a very big reason Reverie is as good at it is. The woman is a standout and I can’t wait to see where her career takes her next.
For the guys – The music is mostly testosterone-fuelled. The revolution violent. And although the lead is a young woman, her dissatisfaction with her job, the numbing of her reality and the awakening to a more meaningful life are all themes any guy could relate to. SEE IT
For the girls – You’ll relate to the feeling of emptiness and the longing to be a 10-year-old girl without any cares again. The singing is fantastic and the lyrics will move you. And maybe you’ll feel empathy for the search for the older sister where I didn’t. SEE IT
For the sometimes audience – This is not an easy fun night out in the theatre. Challenging and odd are probably not what you are after. SKIP IT
For the performance junkies – The first act will be one of the most interesting, professional and thrilling things you’ve seen in a long time. SEE IT
Another great review. Thanks for the detailed and caring critique.
Your description of Ava Jane Markus reminds me of how a young actress at Theatre Junction was described about 10 years ago – and she has gone on to have a great career, mostly based out of Vancouver (Who is … Meg Roe?). She was recently seen in the Penelopiad at ATP during its 2010 – 2011 season.
Calgary’s got the talent for sure! And I’m thrilled to help shine the spotlight on them in my own little way. Thanks for tipping me off about Reverie. Let me know if you get to see it and what you think. I believe they added a Friday night midnight performance as well….but you’ll need to check on that.