BONE IN HER TEETH
Anyone lucky enough to have spent time in Paris’ great art museum, the Louvre, will be familiar with The Raft of the Medusa (1819), one of France’s iconic paintings. The huge canvas by Géricault depicts the last few survivors of a recent infamous shipwreck, lying in various postures of agony on a small wooden raft in mid-ocean. Only ten of the Medusa’s 150 castaways were saved and rumours abounded that some had resorted to cannibalism to survive.
Not what you’d consider a likely subject for comedy. But outrageously imaginative Leaky Heaven Circus has re-envisioned life aboard that raft as a series of strange, sometimes wacky, often remarkable comic tableaux in the Darwinian struggle to come out on top.
There are dark notes—reminders of the realities of starvation, death and worse. And ethical issues, of course. Director Steven Hill stages the play corridor-style so that half the audience looks across the action at the other half as if staring into a mirror of our own humanity. But if this utterly bizarre, utterly fascinating play addresses any of these ideas, it does so in only the most oblique ways.
Cast adrift on the raft—a square of wood atop large tire tubes in Molly March’s clever minimalist set—are two men (Peter Anderson and Billy Marchenski) and two women (Sasa Brown and Tonya Podlozniuk). Anderson’s character narrates their ordeal from the diary of a survivor while a musician (Chrisarrific) plays Veda Hille’s alternately jaunty and melodramatic piano compositions.
Some images are stunning: Anderson swimming through a rough sea of oscillating clear plastic sheets; a beautifully violent struggle between Marchenski and Podlozniuk, part Cirque du Soleil, part WWF, part adagio dance; video starfish crawling over Anderson’s dead body while a doll-baby, manipulated by actor Jordan Bodiguel, tries to revive him. Kudos to Stephan Bircher’s textured lighting effects and Catherine Hahn’s handsome tear-away costumes.
But most of the action is more like a clown show. The superb performers play musical tubes to see who gets to stay on the raft, and rock/paper/scissor for their daily ration of a cracker. Anderson jokes with the audience while the women insult each other: “your armpits are so hairy it looks like you’ve got two midgets in a headlock!” In the funniest and most disturbing scene Brown considers eating a baby—a doll with a small watermelon for a head.
I have nothing but admiration for Leaky Heaven’s consistently unique, original and always entertaining ways of theatricalizing its material. But must we have all irony all the time? For the life of me I can’t figure out what this remarkable show is actually trying to say.