BWW Review: Soulpepper's IDOMENEUS Resonates Through Jarring Storytelling
"That's not what happened." Soulpepper's IDOMENEUS tells the story of a famous Greek myth - but plays with the mode of storytelling to create something remarkable. Roland Schimmelpfennig's modern play comes to life in a timeless zone of monochromatic universality in Alan Dilworth's production, designed by Lorenzo Savoini. Using a chorus of voices, the narrative weaves between past and present, fact and fiction - presenting themes that resonate not only within the world of Soulpepper, but within the world at large.
Excluding a few red fluorescent lights, the world of IDOMENEUS is a colourless one. The floor is covered in black rubber chips. A large grey wall fills the back of the stage, cracked down the centre. Grayscale costumes reflect the depressing drones of the chorus. Luckily, the dynamic structure of the dialogue breathes colour into the piece. Through the use of short, repeated phrases, emphasizing beautiful words sometimes one at a time, Schimmelpfennig's text does two things. First of all, its unnatural organization becomes fascinating to take in and analyze. Second, it makes it easier to understand the vast, bloody family tree at the centre of the plot.
After leaving for war with 80 ships, the King of Crete, Idomeneus, has returned home - victorious? As the soldiers sailed home from battle, they encountered a deadly storm, destroying all but one of their ships. Idomeneus, aboard the ship that had been spared, begged the gods for his life by making a promise that he would sacrifice the first living thing he encountered on the shore. Upon arriving on the shores of Crete, Idomeneus was greeted by none other than his son, Idamantes. This is where the story gets confusing.
In Schimmelpfennig's version, narrative structure is abandoned as a way of creating "narrative uncertainty," as director Alan Dilworth calls it. He will take us down one path to a certain point, before we are interrupted by a member of the chorus telling us, "That's not what happened." Each false narrative is just as compelling, just as seemingly honest as the last - creating an atmosphere of confusion as to what is fact and what is fiction.
I kept reflecting on how accurately this narrative structure reflected our current political climate in the era of Trump. In a society ravaged by fake news, our polarized society is consistently and convincingly communicated vastly contradictory information. This could start an entire rant, but I'll rest on this - currently there are truth-knowing voices, adamantly shouting "That's not what happened" - but the increasing polarization of two extreme camps of thought in America makes it difficult for those voices to penetrate or resonate. Thankfully, in Schimmelpfennig's play, the truth - "That's not what happened" - is an indisputable voice, kind of like the role of the press in this big mess of a reality. Eventually we get to the true story (I think?).
Dilworth's production not only illuminates the tiredness we all experience when we hear the word "Trump", but also the energies of the Soulpepper community. Although it's important that the guilty parties are brought to justice, sadly many innocent parties have also been dragged through this battle - and they must be exhausted. Every performer committed to this piece is doing fantastic work. As this is a true ensemble work, I'm not going to single out any one performer. (I've listed all of their names below.)
IDOMENEUS is a piece that imprints on your mind. From Savoini's arresting visuals, to Dilworth's otherworldly environment, to Schimmelpfennig's puzzling lyrical structure - the timelessness of it all creates a piece of theatre that is rather timely.
IDOMENEUS, presented by Soulpepper, runs through March 24, 2018 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit soulpepper.ca
photo credit: Idomeneus Ensemble. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann