The latest wild ride from Theatre Replacement is a surreal take on the Winter Olympics, alien abduction, intercultural communications, the Great White North, and a whole lot more. Presented in a unique and imaginative style, it’s an immensely impressive and entertaining experience for about 4/5 of its long one act. And like most Theatre Replacement shows, it doesn’t seem to add up to much in the end.
There’s a plot line of sorts although I admit I couldn’t follow all of it. Maiko Bae Yamamoto plays a Japanese girl who tells of her traumatic experience at the Nagano Olympics twelve years earlier where she was nearly trampled by a robot. Now she’s headed for Whistler 2010. Hitchhiking along the Sea to Sky, she’s picked up by James Long playing a Slow Food farmer. They, along with a couple of deer and maybe a bear, are abducted by a UFO. Once returned, they make it to the Games, each event of which they cleverly enact for us in a closing mime/dance montage, accompanied on electric guitar by a guy with a deer-head mask, and Veda Hille on keyboards, synthesizer, and vocals.
As with most Theatre Replacement shows, the media seem more important than the message. The presentation is endlessly inventive, witty, and skilled. Hille sits in what looks like a trailer with its side cut away, and the actors play on top of it. Much of the dialogue and narrative is sung, and a good deal of it is danced or otherwise expressed through movement of a choreographed but not always mimetic kind.
Nearly the whole second half of the show involves the actors interacting with projections on a screen. One or both of the actors—and once with help from an audience member—create these projections by hand, manipulating transparencies on an overhead projector: overlaying cute drawings and crude cut-outs. The cleverness of using such a low-tech device to create such relatively sophisticated interactions offers great pleasure at first, but after a while the novelty wears thin.
I loved a lot of the individual moments in the show. Yamamoto and Long are both talented and extremely likable performers and I’m a big fan of Hille’s offbeat musical style. Director Amiel Gladstone provides as much variety of movement and rhythms as possible on what is essentially a bare stage with a minimum of props (Maiko’s purse; a small hoop that becomes a steering wheel). Sarah Chase is credited with Movement Direction, and there’s a lot of it, though it didn’t all make sense to me. I liked the deer and bear masks (they go uncredited) and Itai Erdal’s lighting.
Finally, I have to remind myself that this is surrealism. It’s like a dream. It doesn’t have to make sense. Just go with it.