When does disavowal of the supposedly simple or banal become jadedness, an inability to feel wonder at what rightly deserves it? This is the overarching line of inquiry in This is Why We Live, a co-production between Open Heart Surgery Theatre and Théâtre de l’Enfumeraie that combines poetry, live music, collage, and contemporary dance into an experience of the poet’s astonishment toward the world.
Performed in English, Polish and French, the show draws its prismatic set of nameless characters from nineteen poems by Wislawa Szymborska, who is beloved for conserving a state of wonder for humanity in her poetry in spite of enduring Nazism in WWII-era Poland. With her guidance, the cast challenges the stigma of foolishness that comes with being fascinated by things we take for granted, like food, nature and community, by showing us the humour they hold within.
Elodie Monteau threads a note of caution for the unknown through her characters and has them delve into their actions in spite of themselves.
During Szymborska’s "The Onion," she hands over a plump, red onion to an audience member with care worthy of a Fabergé-egg, and the audience member treats it as such. The ridicule we might expect this behaviour to receive in polite society turns into an intimate and playful exchange.
Monteau interprets "Conversation with a Stone” with the conviction of a toddler telling you the most important thing they’ve ever heard. She voices both stone and speaker, hinting at a mindset of fading lustre, one where the anxieties that consume a functioning adult can coexist in a mutually symbiotic relationship with a child’s suspension of disbelief.
Playing against Monteau’s fearlessness, Alaine Hutton’s characters act like they know they’re being watched and are visibly concerned with being entertaining. When Hutton devours a slice of chocolate cake with her hands, we laugh at the acknowledgement of a weakness we all share.
Over the ambient discord of Dobrochna Zubek’s cello playing, the pair’s distinctly goofy choreography carries them through meditations on silence, birds, apologies and a handful more, with Hutton ending on Szymborska’s “Astonishment” in fearful admiration of existence allowing her to recite it.
This is a theatre piece that relights the aura of routine, day-to-day life for our self-obsessed times.
Directed by Coleen MacPherson, This is Why We Live played at The Theatre Centre. For more information, visit http://theatrecentre.org/.
It also plays on Oct. 15 at the Hamilton Conservatory for the Arts. For more information, visit http://m.bpt.me/event/2599756.