january 2019 | Volume 175
Dean-Paul Gibson and the ensemble of The Full Light of Day. Photo by DonLee
THE FULL LIGHT OF DAY
by Daniel Brooks
Electric Company Theatre
$19.99 – $59.99
Electric Company Theatre has long been one of the jewels in Vancouver’s cultural crown, creating vivid, imaginative spectacles that combine theatrical and cinematic techniques. Over the years, charter members Kim Collier (directing), Jonathon Young (acting) and Kevin Kerr (writing) have become artists of national stature.
Their latest work, The Full Light of Day, is intended as a first step in reviving the Vancouver Playhouse as a regular venue for live theatre, with the ultimate goal of having the Electrics as its resident company.
With a smart script by Toronto’s Daniel Brooks, direction by Collier and a superb A-list cast, The Full Light of Day has a lot going for it, including narrative storytelling and some depth of character that Electric Company shows have often lacked. But the disconcerting technological fetish of the production and its somewhat bloated quality seem at odds with the play’s very theme and don’t bode well for the marriage of Playhouse and company.
Brooks has written a family drama somewhat resembling The Godfather. Patriarch Harold (Jim Mezon) is a successful developer whose high-rise projects have been aided by shady business practices. Taking over the business, oldest son David (Dean Paul Gibson) is more obvious, overt and extreme in both his personal and corporate corruption. Hopelessly naïve and inept younger son Joey (Jonathon Young) will become the family’s sacrifice when Harold crosses an offstage mobster/developer who threatens a bloodbath.
Daughter Jane (Jenny Young), semi-estranged from her parents, is grieving her late husband’s suicide. David’s wife Sherry (Jillian Fargey) has learned to live with her husband’s compromises.
At the heart of the family and play is the matriarch, Mary (Gabrielle Rose), who shares a deep love with Harold yet has been kept in the dark, in part willingly, about how exactly they have become wealthy and privileged. Mary gradually develops an eco-consciousness that morphs at last into full rebellion against the assumptions and behaviours that have shaped their lives.
The acting ranges from fine to extraordinary. Rose, as always, turns in a beautifully detailed performance as a woman struggling to reconcile her love with her growing awareness of the dark truth. Jenny Young is a brilliant Jane, strangled by anger and grief. Gibson’s appalling David is both larger-than-life awful and transparently human. And Jonathon Young has one phenomenal scene, as a minister preaching a fire-and-brimstone sermon about how “we cannot escape our transgressions,” that gives the play its thematic and theatrical centre.
Yet both Jane and Joey are seriously underdeveloped and spend most of their time offstage. Even Harold, who has more stage time than anyone, remains less than fully knowable. The main reason, I think, is because so much stage time and energy are taken up with videography. I would argue that this script calls for a smaller, more intimately naturalistic treatment. It is not intrinsically a Godfather-like epic, although the production treats it as if it were.
Some video effects are very striking, such as when Joey uses his phone to record a scene around a restaurant table with David behaving badly, or various close-ups of Mary’s face, blown up on the scrim behind the actor. They enhance the quality and meaning of the scenes, giving the audience access to more detail and intimacy than the live action alone.
But as striking as Brian Johnson’s projection are, many of those that make up the background and visual environments on overlapping scrims are redundant or distracting. How many times do we have to see high-rise buildings to understand the hubris and alienation involved in Harold’s work? And is it really helpful to see so many characters’ faces projected when they speak? The projection often upstages the actor. Sometimes the dialogue in the projection is out of synch with the moving lips. And always we see those microphones taped to the actor’s face. They kind of disappear on the real actor but are unavoidable on the hugely enlarged projection.
Selfie-mania strikes again. The real thing has to be enhanced by its techno-image. The video or photograph displaces the audience’s imagination. At the same time Collier continually reminds us of the play’s theatrical (un)reality: stage hands and actors change the sets, push onto the stage the real car characters “drive,” throw pieces of debris onto the stage when Harold smashes up his home. The resulting aesthetic may be fascinating but doesn’t necessarily help tell the story.
One last thing. Collier fleshes out her cast with four “ensemble” actors as well as two child actors playing David and Sherry’s children in one scene. The ensemble actors are essentially extras, without dialogue. When secondary characters appear, they are doubled by principals (Gibson, Jonathon Young, John Ng), even though the doubling is sometimes confusing.
The Playhouse is a big theatre with a big stage, and this is a big, expensive production. Its technology and secondary cast help fill that space, even if the story itself might be told—and told better--on a smaller scale. Ironically, the play itself argues that bigger is not only not always better, it’s sometimes significantly worse.
If this is what a marriage of Playhouse and Electric Company is ultimately going to look like, I might want to stand up and object before it’s consummated.
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