Robillard Theatreworks director Sarah Moss has taken on a huge challenge in adapting Jean Paul Sartre’s 1945 philosophical novel The Age Of Reason into a play with choreography for presentation at The Garage, one of our city’s most valued off-the-beaten-track venues. The result is highly experimental, thrilling in parts, incorporating some fine acting and dancing, but, in the end, leaving this reviewer unsure what to make of it.
Young Mathieu is a philosophy student who clings to his freedom. That freedom is threatened, however, now that his girlfriend is pregnant and he seeks to fund an abortion. His wealthy brother refuses to help, insisting that Marcel has “reached the age of reason” and needs to be more responsible and give up his freedom by marrying his pregnant girlfriend. The brother even offers a substantial sum of money if Mathieu will comply. Mathieu’s response: “Your age of reason is the age of resignation, and I will have none of it!”
In a series of scenes (some of them performed as dances), Mathieu seeks help from various friends and acquaintances, and we are made aware of how each of them has dealt with the problem of personal freedom.
The biggest challenge to this piece is that it is philosophical in essence, presenting a series of vignettes displaying various responses to a philosophical problem, without much plot or storytelling.
Familiarity with Sartre and the philosophical issues at hand can greatly assist a viewer in appreciating this work. Without that, an audience member might be understandably lost and confused.
Still, I found the experimental qualities of the production consistently fascinating. The dances were extraordinary and moving in their own right, even though I was sometimes confused as to their connection to the story. The acting was highly stylized and extremely Brechtian – in that the actors seemed to be outside their characters and commenting upon them rather than inhabiting them.
This production put me in mind of Jerzy Grotowki’s famous “poor theatre” — a minimalist approach that requires almost everything to be communicated by the actors’ voices and bodies, pushed to extremes, with little help from other production elements. Certainly, Moss’s cast of actor/dancers were up to that task. There were standout performances by Geo Epsilanti as a sardonic sailor/hustler and Robby Lucchesi in multiple gender challenging roles. Dances by Sylvia Hathaway and Christina Ritter were beautifully executed. Brandon Wiley as protagonist Mathieu is more than fine, along with the rest of the cast.
If your taste is towards experimental and exceptionally challenging and risky work, you should certainly be familiar with The Garage and with Robillard Theatreworks. The Age of Reason would be an excellent introduction to both.
I should mention that two days after the performance, my theatre-going companion and I are still engaged in discussion and analysis. What more can you ask of the experimental?