Looking Hard for Meaning : Perplex(e) and The World of The Absurd

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Sometimes, when looking too hard for meaning, we find the absurdity of existence. It is in this spirit that Le Bocal, a theatrical collective founded by Raphaëlle Lalande, Sonia Cordeau and Simon Lacroix, hopes to immerse the spectator with Perplex(e), by Marius von Mayenburg, from Nov. 12 to Dec. 14, at the Petite Licorne.

The members of Le Bocal, from the Conservatoire de musique et d’art dramatique du Québec, have called on their former teacher Patricia Nolin to take on the staging.

“Patricia Nolin introduced us to the play,” says Cordeau. “It represents continuity with what we have done. And we wanted to present a new project at La Licorne, which gives us space every two years. Before, we did everything, but in this room, where many interpretations are possible, we have the ability to push further as actors.

“Since 2013, we have written and produced three new works,” adds Lacroix. “We finished a cycle. In Perplex(e), we find a lot of kinship to our writing style. We often write in an explosive way.”

Comic timing

After Le Moche and Voir clair, Perplex(e) completes the von Mayenburg trilogy. But this third installment of the author from Berlin’s Schaubühne Theatre, presented for the first time in 2010, was adapted on its own, without the other parts, for the Petite Licorne version.

Mikhaïl Ahooja joins Lalande, Cordeau and Lacroix to play the roles of Éva, Robert, Judith and Sebastian.

“Mikhaïl has an incredible charisma,” Cordeau says. “We have often played together. It’s a good cast.”

“We met Mikhaïl at the Conservatoire,” Lacroix explains. “We love him for his truth, his comic timing.”

Identities and roles change in this play and descend into absurd comedy. “Although we really like the absurd, we also like to anchor it as a real, realistic, felt play,” says the actor. “When unusual fantasy situations meet the banal truth, the absurd result makes us feel overcome by awe.”

Ode to freedom

Mayenburg pays tribute to the freedom of the actor in Perplex(e). The public encounters shifts between reality and theatricality, in ambiguous places, but with the spatial and temporal orientation of today.

“It’s absurd; it’s like living a dream,” says Cordeau. “It’s never clear, it’s blurred. There are subtle transitions in the characters who transform them.

“Sometimes I am in a relationship with Simon, sometimes with Mikhaïl. We make the audience experience some strange emotions. It takes a lot of attention to follow us in our transitions.”

The actors play two couples, Eva and Robert, Judith and Sebastian, who will move from one table to another in absurd situations, interspersed with humour. The play has begun, but the director has not yet come. And the set is dismantled while the action continues on stage.

“There is no frame, no story,” Cordeau says. “The only constant element throughout the room is a package that has been delivered. It’s still there, but we’re wondering where it came from.” There is no doubt that Perplex(e) breaks a few classical theatre, but it still retains a fourth wall.

“We like to provoke surprise, the unexpected in our shows,” adds Lacroix. “This room is filled with a fine and mischievous humor. We go off the beaten path, even if the type of theatre we present can be linked with the Theatre of the Future and Amélie Dallaire.

“There is a certain sense of freedom that comes with the theatre of the absurd. Instead of seeing a play that makes people think about the issue of immigration, for example, the absurd play has value, in that it gives a sense of freedom.”

Philosophical issues

In spite of the inconsistency of situations and the perplexity the viewer might feel – because not everything is anchored in meaning – Perplex(e) provides references to the theory of evolution and the allegory of Plato’s cave (highlighting man’s access to the metaphysical knowledge of good and its transmission).

The members of the Le Bocal collective say they are inspired by philosopher Gaston Bachelard’s quotation: “Real life is better when one gives it a deserved vacation of unreality.”

“Making sense or not is the heart of the matter,” says Lacroix. “The question often falls to the director. We ask him what he means, the vision he wants to convey. But Perplex(e) is a piece that eludes meaning. It slips between our fingers like water.”

All in all, is existence in itself absurd? “I have the impression that we do not have the answer,” admits Simon Lacroix. “We do not necessarily have access to great truths. I studied philosophy, looking for answers. But this is not the result. We find more questions!

“I told myself that I was going to create theatre, a theatre that deals with philosophical issues. But without saying that everything is absurd, we have fun with the absurd side of life.”   

Perplex(e), produced by Le Bocal Project, runs at Théâtre La Licorne from Nov. 12 to Dec. 14. www.theatrelalicorne.com

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