christian barry & anthony black
2b theatre’s newest play When it Rains, written and directed by the company’s co-Artistic Director Anthony Black, is all about projection; the projection of self and others, as well as the question of how we imbue our lives with meaning, projecting a spiritual or religious dogma and/or narrative on the events of our lives in order to create a semblance of order and control to sometimes seemingly random, terrifying and depressing circumstances. It is a deeply philosophical play that penetrates and reverberates deep within the psyche long after its final curtain call.
At its essence, When it Rains is the story of four people. Alan and Anna are siblings. Alan is married to Sybil. Anna is married to Louis. Life happens to each of them. They experience unbridled joy, fall in love, search for their destinies, make compromises, suffer loss, betrayal and heartache and struggle to hold on to their sense of their place in the world. Delving deeper, we see Anna, Alan, Sybil and Louis continually projecting their visions of themselves, the world and each other on every conversation they have, and this keeps them from truly connecting and hearing one another and detaches them from their own authentic voices.
Anthony Black tells this story in a very unique way. The set is sleekly designed by Nick Bottomley (with equally as smooth sound design from Christian Barry), and is all projected on the back wall of the theatre, using magnificent tricks of the light and moving projected pictures to create the semblance of a three dimensional world. The effect is strongly reminiscent of Robert LePage’s recent show The Andersen Project, only beautifully tailored to suit the small, intimate space of the Bus Stop Theatre. The most unique of Black’s story telling devices is the choice to use projected text to compliment (and sometimes supplement) his characters’ dialogue. This could seem like a bold cop-out, as the text at times summarizes key plot points that would typically unfold naturally as the play progresses, but it becomes clear during a monumental rewrite of this text, that the titles are not simply humorous postmodern commentary on the action, but suggest the presence of an omnipotent power, carefully crafting this story which continually questions the existence of omnipotence, of God, of fate and destiny and any external forces that shape the order of the chaos of the world. Of course, we project narrative onto events when we construct stories, and it is unclear whether the teller of this particular tale is an artist, one of the characters, or a divine creator (and wouldn’t such a creator also be an artist?). The characters at times seem vaguely aware that they are in a play and each one performs his or her vision of him or herself, sometimes absurdly theatrically, as in the case of Louis, the Frenchest clichéd French man that there ever was en Francais. This is all Black calling our attention to how vague the line often is between performance, performativity and being.
Sebastien Labelle plays Louis, an arrogant professor who finds himself regressing into the most primal forms of humanity, but keeps projecting his own inflated cultural stereotype on himself, culminating with him serenading a very reluctant Anna from outside her window in the rain with Jacques Brel’s “Ne Me Quitte pas.” This exaggerated facade keeps the other characters at a distance from Louis, but also alienates him from the audience, which is a challenge. Labelle brings a nice balance of humour, absurdity and boldness to Louis, but there is a bit of Brecht’s alienation effect inherent in him as well. Alan, played by Conor Green, keeps the others at an intellectual distance. He is just as arrogant, but also far more affected by his interactions with the others in a seemingly genuine way. Black is an expert at infusing a heart’s worth of emotion in word as small as “oh” or “well” and Green captures this tension perfectly.
Francine Deschepper plays Sybil, an elementary school teacher with a degree in criminology, who has a solo scene so pitch perfect that it guarantees that the audience will fall instantly in love with her. Deschepper also shows incredible fortitude in a collision with Louis where she screams at him to get clean, but it is obvious that her intentions are much more complex. Samantha Wilson plays Anna, a woman drifting from one vocation to the next, unable to trust her instincts, but on a constant pursuit of empowerment and self exploration. Wilson gives Anna so much innocence and naivety, her performance almost seems shallow, and effortlessly so, until you realize that her intricate characterization of this woman is blurring the line so effectively between the actor and the character and that Anna’s performance of herself is apparent, but Wilson’s performance is actually almost invisible. It is just this sort of projection upon projection upon projection that boggles the mind when watching this play because you find yourself very quickly wondering what is real; is it all real, is it all fake, is it sometimes real and partly fake and on which plane of reality? How many creations of this character, of this story, exist, all tightly woven into this one experience?
Anthony Black is a vividly intellectual playwright, and 2b theatre always uses incredibly creative and artful theatrical conventions to build the worlds that accentuate their stories. When it Rains has visual magic and questions many of the world’s most vast and challenging conundrums, but at its essence it always remains a story about four people. A story that will make you laugh and empathize, hold you captivated and perhaps even offer a glimmer of light to the flood.
When It Rains plays at the Bus Stop Theatre in Halifax, Nova Scotia (2203 Gottingen Street) until May 1st, 2011. For more information or to book your tickets please call 902.453.6267 (Monday-Friday 9-5) or go online anytime at http://2btheatrecompany.ev