Monday, December 12, 2005

Chugga-chugga...

There's a moment in Jimmy, Marie Brassard's dreamy one-woman show currently on at Toronto's Buddies in Bad Times theatre, where the actress transforms herself into a train speeding down a track, chasing after the play's title character. Using a sound processor to distort her voice to the pitch of a train whistle, she squeals: "JIM-MEEEEEEEE! JIM-MEEEEEEEE!"

I've been haunted by this moment ever since I saw the show last Wednesday night. It echoes in my head in the strangest moments. Although I'd agree with Robert Cushman that Jimmy is more technique than substance, I haven't been so enthralled by anything I've seen in a (Toronto) theatre this fall and thus must recommend the show whole-heartedly.

I've posted my Nov. 30 interview with Brassard here. Here's the start:
Edward Albee once explained the difference between the theatre and film like this: "You can take a deaf person to a movie; you can't take a blind person. You can take a blind person to a play; you can't take a deaf person." ("Except for a critic," the playwright added.)

When you're talking about Marie Brassard's multimedia solo theatre, Albee's aphorism rings particularly true. In shows like Jimmy, The Darkness and Peepshow, the Quebecoise actress, director and writer uses processors and computers to twist and turn her voice into a hundred shapes and dozens of different characters. "It's an amazing tool for an actor," says Brassard over the phone from Berlin, where she is taking part in an electronic music festival. "It's amazing how it feels when you suddenly open your mouth and it's not your voice coming out any more but the voice of somebody else.

"It's a bit like being an etre mutant [mutant creature]. Those machines add some capabilities to the physical possibilities of what acting can be. It's very liberating."

Brassard, who collaborated with fellow theatrical innovator Robert Lepage until forming her own Infrarouge Theatre five years ago, doesn't really believe Albee's pronouncement, however. Mime, after all, is a form of theatre inaccessible to the blind. And, she notes, there's the late Derek Jarman's Blue -- a film that played its soundtrack over an unchanging blue screen.

Still, her own experience makes it seem like Albee was on to something. "When I performed [Jimmy] in Quebec City last year, there was a blind musician who came to see the play," says Brassard, who is bringing Jimmy back to Toronto's Buddies in Bad Times Theatre next week. "He very seldom goes to the theatre and said that he was very, very excited because soundwise there was a lot of material."

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