(top) Ron Kennell with ensemble (bottom) Stephanie Belding
Theatre Gargantua’s current production of Imprints, running at the Factory Studio Theatre, is an impressive piece of multi-disciplinary theatre that features the physical skill of a variety of artists making their way through a complex meditation on illness and family heritage. Projection design by Cameron Davis is especially intriguing as faces appear and disappear on unexpected screens ranging from a white wall of smoke to the face of one of the lead performers. Sheree Tam's costumes are a fantastical mix of playful and threateningly nebulous forms, while lighting by Laird Macdonald and sound by Michael Laird and William Falcon fill the intimate studio theatre playing space with a shadowy ambient mood perfecty suited to this dream-like journey.
Stephanie Belding provides great physical agility and an emotional range that is well suited to her pivotal role, while Ron Kennell’s demonic figure thrills with sudden appearances from beginning to end, demonstrating his skill for intense and effective characterization. Conor Green, Kat Sandler, Cosette Derome, and Michael Spence round out the ensemble with impressive vocal and physical agility that manages to make spoken interaction, coupled with complex set movements, appear seamless and fluid. Conor Green, in particular, interacts with Belding’s central narrative ‘victim’ in an intriguing and amorous way that adds engaging narrative force to the overall piece.
Michael Spence’s script is laced with an entertaining mixture of melodramatic, arch interaction by a variety of fantastical characters, contrasted frequently by a kind of wry comic realism as some of the players take the high melodrama of the language and respond to it with a very subtly delivered dry wit that brings the narrative into a sharp, contemporary focus. A later scene rises to an almost Shakespearean, Romeo and Juliet level as Green and Belding interact in a finely tuned romantic clutch, directed with an impressive attention to intimate physical detail and emotional nuance by Jacquie P.A. Thomas. This instance exemplifies one of the most effective and simple moments of technical brilliance as a large black sheet, manipulated skillfully by the performers, provides an expressive setting for the story to unfold within.
Although physically exciting and textually thought provoking throughout, the hour long narrative does tend to become repetitive and somewhat too circular at times, and could stand with more detailed segments delineating, in a creative manner, some of the genetic theory that grounds the initial idea regarding ‘imprints’ and the ways in which illness, genetic make-up, and family interaction can coalesce into profound eye opening experiences provoking fear, love and laughter in the most unexpected places. This circular tendency in the script, depending too much upon sharp, familiar expository moments, instead of new narrative details, renders some segments all spectacular technical prowess coupled with too little meaty narrative content. But there are many engaging moments that could be strengthened by more layered dialogue.
A simple beach scene at the end provides a final, beautiful moment of technical expertise, and brings the familial journey full circle with both an ending and a beginning of a story happening simultaneously - an ending that might have been rendered more enthralling had it contained a little more textual intimacy and relied less upon a predictable exchange that, despite narrative shortfall, provides a somewhat moving and visually stunning finale for this interrogation of bodies grappling with complex issues surrounding mortality, memory, and modern genetic possibility.
Imprints runs at the Factory Studio Theatre until November 26th
CONOR GREEN, KAT SANDLER, AND COSETTE DEROME IN IMPRINTS