Some EXCELLENT theater out there right now, and one production has a short shelf life so I’m starting with Robert Lepage’s NEEDLES AND OPIUM presented by ArtsEmerson now dazzling audiences onstage at The Cutler Majestic. Attention, singers, actors, dancers, musicians, filmmakers, poets, architects, acrobats–imagine a giant cube in cross section, suspended in a black void, turning on a shifting axis, ceiling becoming floor, becoming wall; a hotel room becoming an alley, becoming a subway, grand central station, a nightclub; the images projected on these planes like a slow motion kaleidoscope of searching faces and a sea of stars, all of it tumbling in slow motion, gravity shifting with the lives contained therein, rotating like a prism of experience, each illuminating the other. You won’t know if you are up or down, but you will know that you have been somewhere deeply familiar, and you will be glad you took the trip.
It’s a three dimensional slice through three intersecting worlds and I’ve never seen anything like it, a physical manifestation of a concept so uniquely captured in a set. The production by EX MACHINA is as much a technical achievement as anything and as such the entire backstage crew takes center stage for a bow at curtain along with the actors.
The concept? A heartbroken man from Quebec (Marc Labreche) sits in a Paris hotel room, trying to get over his addiction to a lover who has abandoned him. His pain echoes the experience 40 years earlier of jazz legend Miles Davis’s (Wellesley Robertson III) addiction to heroin, and writer/filmmaker Jean Cocteau’s addiction to opium, and all of it resonating with the deeper existential pain of the loneliness of living.
Cocteau once wrote that “Living is a horizontal fall.” Here it is suggested that the creative active act–art, is an attempt to put the brakes on that fall to oblivion. So how, if we are not Miles or Cocteau, do we find a way to live with such pain? These are the questions director/writer Robert Lepage sets in motion in this re-imagining of his 20 year-old work, inviting us into a dream world where Miles’s aching improvised blue notes hover desperately over inky images of Jeanne Moreau’s tragic visage in Louis Malle’s “Elevator to the Gallows.” It’s one of many gorgeous sequences that will tear your heart out–and give you hope. Undermiking and a thick accent make Cocteau’s words hard to understand, but the music and images, and the mere sight of chanteuse, muse and Miles’s lover Juliet Greco’s haunting face, speak louder than words.
NEEDLES and OPIUM Through Sunday April 12 at the Cutler Majestic!