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Guest Review. Vancouver Theatre: Far Side of The Moon

Guest Review by Danielle Benzon

Far Side of the Moon 
Written and Directed by Robert LePage
Performed by Yves Jacques until Nov 4, Lepage from Nov 6 to 10, 2012
Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre at SFU Woodwards

Far Side of the Moon is a story about vanity, narcissism, family ties and, inevitably, space exploration. The Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre at SFU Woodwards in the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts provides the perfect setting for this piece. Although still highly technically creative as is the trademark of an Ex Machina production, Far Side of the Moon has an existentialist sparseness to it that effortlessly evokes the loneliness of space and of the human condition.

The play opens with Philippe alone at the Laundromat, washing his deceased mother’s clothes. The “porthole” of the washing machine ever present as the narrative unfolds, linking the two realities. The story of Philippe and his brother André coping with their mother’s death is interspersed with footage of the space race: facts, ruminations and stunning visuals of events that occurred before my life had even begun. Watching the tug and push of familial relationships woven in with groundbreaking world events in this way creates a thought provoking juxtaposition. Were the nations of America and Russia not behaving much like siblings driven into competition for parental affection? Does the anticlimactic ending to the Apollo missions not prompt us to question our motives as a human race and in our individual lives? What is the source, what is the purpose of our ambition? In the end it all just fizzles away. The brothers continue their bickering after their parents have both passed away and the space race is deemed uninteresting, too expensive and just melts into nothingness. Leaving me wondering what it was all for.

The deceptive barrenness of the set creates an atmosphere where weightlessness is possible. It’s a given that anything created by Ex Machina will be powerful and flawlessly executed, but I was still blown away by the simplicity and versatility of the set. The dedication and level of professionalism of the unseen backstage crew was astounding. Miracles happened on that stage without ever losing the sense of minimalism, space and isolation essential to the story. The fluorescent lighting really bothered me at first, and there were uncomfortable moments for my eyes, but it was worth it. I love the idea of a set change being concealed by blinding light instead of the customary blackout. My eyeballs didn’t stop complaining, but my brain and sense of wonder won out.

All the characters were portrayed by Yves Jacques and will be until Nov 4th. Robert Lepage will take over from Nov 6th to 10th. Lepage’s storytelling style is imbued with a sense of self-depreciation. His work is personal and his characters are painfully real. Seeing their flaws so honestly portrayed really opens the heart. They are embarrassing, they are cruel, pathetic and lonely but we feel for them and hope for them so much. Jacques captured this sense of self-effacing comedy with such aplomb and grace that I found myself transported to a place where redemption lies in the smallest and most commonplace of things.

The strength and powerful elegance of the stagecraft in Far Side of the Moon highlights the pettiness of the awkward stories being told on the stage, not in a way that devalues the human experience, but instead brings compassion and beauty to the most trivial of occurrences and utterances. It brings a weight (ironically enough) to the seemingly insignificant. Lepage as a director takes his time, nothing is rushed, and we slow down to appreciate the importance of every nuance, every expression on Jacques’ open face.  I hope to take this gift of perspective, this sense of melancholy wonder out with me into my life. Every story has a message; every play you see can change your life. If you let it.

Tickets for Far Side of the Moon at SFU Woodward’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts are available through the Cultch Theatre Box Office: 604 251 1363.

Danielle Benzon