Fun with philosophers

6. Germinal - Photo by Be a Borgers

Halory Goerger, Ondine Cloez, Denis Robert and Arnaud Boulogne in Germinal.                 Photo by Be a Borgers

 

Germinal

By Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort

L’Amicale de production at World Stage

Fleck Dance Theatre, 231 Queens Quay W., Toronto

January 20 to 23, 2016

 

In the beginning there was darkness – black – but for a pool of dim light in the middle of the stage. Germinal is a creation story for the theatre. Slowly, lights come up on some dim shapes on stage: performers Halory Goerger, Arnaud Boulogne, Ondine Cloez and Denis Robert. Each is concentrating on a handheld computer, connected with a long wire to the wall of the black box they inhabit.

As tall, thin Halory strolls around the stage, stroking a key on his keyboard, his thoughts take shape in white letters beamed from a surtitle panel high on the back wall. In a Eureka moment, he draws Ondine to his discovery: thoughts transferred with the click of a key. Ondine’s thoughts are manifest on a second surtitle panel. They beckon to the other two – a sulky Arnaud and insular Denis —  to join them. Soon words, whole sentences are flashing on and off at the speed of dialogue, as the characters begin erecting the structure of a play, starting with a system of communication.

If Jacques Derrida ever gave a lecture in the form of a song and dance show, it might have looked something like Germinal.

After all this intellectual to-ing and fro-ing, Ondine literally chews up the scenery. Approaching a section of the stage with a pick-axe, she begins to tear it up, creating a hole and a pile of rubble. Arnaud pulls a microphone out of the hole and becomes the mouthpiece for more exchanges, each character now speaking French, but with their words displayed in English. The microphone sound “poc poc” becomes a system for categorization: items and concepts are listed under “poc poc” and “non poc poc”. A laptop from the hole gives the world according to Windows: a menu allows a projection of a hill, a mountain, a swamp on the back wall. The scenery is described as an overlay on top of the wall.

Voices are raised – the letters grow bigger – and then comes choral singing.  Voila! Opera. Germinal manages to be at once highly cerebral and physically, noisily concrete, thought-provoking and laugh-out-loud funny. The production, thanks to a combination of advanced electronic effects and an old-school piece of stage trickery, is dazzling. But nothing happens.

Nothing except for a long, joint effort to describe a series of events occurring in space over time – the objects, the action and duration reduced to a chronological graph that marches across the back wall as words writing themselves on a blackboard.

Timing in theatre is everything: this show has bits we’ve never seen before. Without a trace of artificiality, four performers and almost as many lighting technicians mount a play that is a philosophical argument to totally captivate an unsuspecting audience.

 

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