Pite/Young revisit "Revisor"

Dance House world premieres Kidd Pivot take on Gogol tragifarce at Playhouse

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First as farce, then as tragedy; abstract subjectivity, pure dance. Photo: Michael Slobodian

Such uncanny touches signal the production’s transition to a darker, cooler tone. The flexion point comes in the “ratting” scene, when a trio of accomplices turn “state’s evidence” against the mayor in exchange for amnesty. One offers tapes, another documents. But the third, Narumi, promises something “physical, but not material” – a dream revelation (hypnotically induced?) of the true depth of village corruption.

That’s when the costumes are shed, the spots take on a subaqueous hue and the sets give way to lighting designer Tom Visser’s abstract light-painting squiggles. The dancers, now in tights and singlets, recap the foregoing action piecemeal. The only way we can tell who’s who in the story anymore is by recognising muffled snatches of dialogue half-heard amidst the percussion-punctuated whalesong bleats of the score. A few familiar gestures serve as place keepers, but now they’re fluid, almost balletic, rather than cartoonishly herky-jerky.

The mood shift is not exactly sinister, much less tragic; not quite yet. At this point, the production is still at pains to depersonalise and distance us from the characters. A narrative voice-over matter-of-factly glosses the onstage action: “Figure 1 crosses desk, clasps Figure 9, lurches left” and so forth, in minute detail.

It sounds a bit like the read-out of a motion capture script for 3-D animation. Or perhaps the studiedly dispassionate “Individual 1” ambiguity of a court filing involving unindicted co-conspirators. Then, still in officialese, we switch over to another kind of bureaucratic document: a police report, debriefing the apostasy of the mayoral henchmen.

A little more intimate, this time. Now, instead of “figures,” we’re talking about a “subject” – the revisor himself. And, upon hearing the jailer’s account of “degradation, despair and death,” we learn, “the subject was moved.” We hang on that word, “was moved…was moved…was moved” a dozen times, as Trergarthen cycles through a series of increasingly inward, increasingly tormented poses. Until, at last “the subject was moved to speak.”

Whereupon the stage is aswarm with all eight performers in a pure dance gestural frenzy of complex subjectivity. We glimpse fear, guilt, shame, but maybe also some recollection of lost innocence and a faint dream of some sort of redemption.

The moment passes, the oompah score returns, the dancers suit up again in their costumes and the plot resumes with the Revisor’s mailing off his exposé and skipping out of town. The postmaster, of course, couldn’t resist reading the letter and is so scandalised by its content that he swallows the offending diatribe.

But just as we think we’re back in farce mode, the plotters drag the postmaster before them and gut-wrenchingly torture the letter out of him. They stand horrified at its revelations – all the more so when they learn that the Revisor was never the real Inspector General after all and the incognito auditor is still on his way.

So we leave them staring fearfully (or prayerfully?) up into the wings, stage right, in stunned silence. The Playhouse crowd stands stunned, for a moment, too, before the prolonged ovation.

From Vancouver, Revisor embarks on an extended (and already pretty much sold-out) North American tour. Is it pure coincidence that everyplace it plays – Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, even North Carolina – is in the throes of corruption investigations and cover-up scandals? Too bad it won’t make it to D.C. in time for the Mueller report’s release (or suppression).

In the advance publicity, co-creators Pite and Young have been at pains to sidestep any intimation of undue topicality. But, as co-star Spivey admits over canapés in the post-show reception, “we could hardly resist getting in a poke here and there.”

Which adds all the more piquancy, if you can wangle a ticket.






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