Justin Michael Carriere and Geneviève Paré. Photo Credit: Sara Traschel.
March 20 – 30, 2013
By definition a Robert Lapage play is a multisensory experience. Known as the modern master of multi-media theatre, Lapage’s productions challenge and amaze the audience with visual splendor that takes projection to an orgiastic level of meaning and amazement. His grand images transfigure, add depth of scope and most importantly work in partnership with his scripts, blending language and representation that results in a whole that is the outgrowth of the intertwined parts. So crucial is Lepage’s brand of magic in the success of his productions that it’s always risky to try and stage one of his plays in his absence. More problematic still is trying to house his grand design in a small theatre not suited for Lepage’s scope of imagery. No doubt both of these hurdles were top of mind for Sage Theatre’s production of Polygraph, Lepage’s 1987 semi-autobiographical thriller-esque story. Their production had risk written all over it. But thanks to a wall, a woman and wonderful direction, this Polygraph is a triumph on its own terms.
Based on true events which saw a young Lepage briefly accused murdering of a friend and forced to take a lie detector test, Polygraph addresses feelings of misplaced guilt, blurred lines between truth and perception and the tearing down of barriers. A mash-up of mystery, thriller and film-noir, the play, told in French and English, tells the story of the aftermath of a young woman’s horrific murder which finds her best friend Francois (Justin Michael Carriere) accused and forced to submit to a polygraph test to prove his innocence. Passing the test, but never told of the results, François spirals into a kind of depressive madness where self-punishment and self-doubt are his poison. Intersecting with this story is François’s neighbour and friend Lucie (Geneviève Paré), a young actress who lands a part in a thriller movie unknowingly playing François’s murdered friend. The repercussions of the murder (real and on set) for both Lucie and François are brought out by a third character, David (Brain Jensen), a criminologist who touches both their lives as the keeper of the polygraph results.
Artfully directed by Kelly Reay, the action takes place in a modified theater in the round configuration (the audience is seated on only two sides on the stage) with a brilliantly designed set by Terry Gunvordahl resembling a wall-like structure stripped of its middle and made hollow. This wall imagery plays heavy in Lepage’s script – literally as the structure between François and Lucie’s apartment and the Berlin Wall through which David escapes abandoning and betraying someone from his past, and metaphorically as the wall keeping the truth from being known. Reay embraces all meanings in his direction forcing his actors into a physical relationship with the set that runs the gamut from sexual to practical as they crawl on, scamper across, take apart, put back together and against the set in pleasure and horror.
Equally as intriguing as the tactile interaction with the design is Reay’s use of film, light and sound to bring the right amount of Lepage-ness to the production while at the same time respecting the space limitations of a small theatre. Projections onto the upper part of the set show images of scene titles in a chapter-like fashion, French to English sur titles, historical footage of the Berlin Wall, live images of the actors and the movie outtakes from Lucie’s film set. Lights at the bookends of the stage beautifully depict a movie camera and its playback mode, an oncoming train and provides much of the shadowy lighting that sets the mood for the play. But it’s was Peter Moller’s sound design that really elevated this production and brought largeness to the space and action. Moody, atonal and eerie Moller’s original composition was our sensory clue into the meanings behind Polygraph’s mystery and our entry point into the delight of a scene. Nowhere is this better illustrated than a during romantic dinner between David and Lucie that has the pair seated at a restaurant table waited on by François. David and Lucie speed up and slow down as though being controlled by the skip button on a remote control while François continues to whirl around them in efficient waiterly fashion. The direction is smart, the acting superb, but it’s the time-morphing sound accompanying the scene that makes the whole thing tick brilliantly.
With so much visual stimulation in a play, the actors can often come off as B-players but Reay makes sure his cast is front and centre and never upstaged by the technical accoutrements. Jensen’s David speaks in stilted yet strangely calming German-ish cadence and through a thoughtful performance emerges as a loveable presence despite his cruel withholding of the truth. Carriere as François gives a decent depiction of a tortured soul, but has a hard time overcoming some of the script’s action without substance. We are told that François has gone mad from the polygraph rather than shown it dramatically, making the character’s believability and motivation for self-doubt frustratingly thin. Carriere does his best to bring depth to his depressive and violent scenes, but with little to play off of, these moments often feel hollow. But in an almost nothing else matter’s kind of performance Paré as Lucie steals the show. Her confidence during several highly vulnerable full nude scenes, the ability to wholly embrace and embody the dialogue and an infections energy whether channeled positively, in discomfort or in fear makes her the ‘can’t take your eyes off of’ centerpiece in this ensemble.
Polygraph is by no means a faultless script and the holes of character motivation and at times over clever plot intersections I felt were evident in my previous viewings are just as constant in this production. But the story is intriguing and in Sage Theatre’s expert hands, this production is an excellent and exciting adaptation of the unique experience that comes with seeing a Lapage piece.
For the guys and the girls – An experience on many levels with a cool/creepy vibe and solid to tremendous acting. Like a legal high without the munchies. SEE IT
For the occasional theatre goer – Plots and idea are gleefully blurred in this show, making it not an easy to enjoy or fully understandable night in the theatre. SKIP IT
For the theatre junkie – This is not Lepage light – it’s Lepage intimate and it’s beautiful in its own way. Yes the plot is thin in places, but let it go and watch Paré do her stuff and let her talent make you tingle. SEE IT
Being a mystery lover I found the play very intriguing with plots within the plots and having a dialogue in French was really, really great.