Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Theatre Gargantua's The Wager

If this is not done, future ages will certainly look back upon us as a people so immersed in the pursuit of wealth as to be blind to higher considerations.

Alfred Russell Wallace

Theatre Gargantua's The Wager utilizes the real life struggle of Alfred Russell Wallace as he attempted to make sense of a world where the rational became the irrational and swiftly moved toward absolute mayhem and destruction. This dour state of affairs somehow becomes a kind of enlightening and frightening cabaret - at times operatic - that lends virtuosity and playful entertainment value to some of the most absurd events of the past hundred and fifty years. 

Musical interludes performed by a gifted multi-talented cast lift pedantic moments of too much rhetoric and not enough catastrophic detail beyond the informational and into a realm of darkly comic moments and sophisticated musical punctuation. Cutting fifteen minutes of poetic yet somewhat repetitive   forewarnings and replacing those moments with a bit more historical 'fact' could transform Michael Gordon Spences' largely effective and cleverly structured  script into a valuable lesson in how we might contribute to saving the planet, or at the very least, help to alleviate current concerns ranging for global warming to flat earth believers and marginalized individuals who are perceived as "unbelievable" due to the intersections of racist and misogynist discourse. 

Olivia Croft powerfully delivers a directly and powerful monologue midway through the piece that connects the ludicrous claims of varied subjects to the oppression of people caught within irrational worlds that oppress and invalidate them. This significant connection is held tougher in cabaret form by the gorgeous, at times operatic tones of both Croft and Tei Kasahara. Kasahara contributes great skill and versatility to an ensemble that never falters as they move seamlessly through a series of issues that threaten scientific methods that, although fallible, have also contributed to many life saving periods in history. 

Anti-vaccers also play a pivotal role as their dubious claims take shape within an action packed sequence resembling a game show more concerned with money and fame than the lives threatened by the questionable motives of money mongering detractors. 

Francois Macdonald and Michael Spence round out the quartet of performers and match equally the signature physicality and performance versatility of the overall cast - all representing the formidable musical, choreographic, and acting skill that Theatre Gargantua has consistently been acclaimed for.

l-r r - Teiya Kasahara, Michael Gordon Spence, Olivia Croft, Francois Macdonald

By the end of this varied tour de force the question remains, what is to be done? The final tableau is beautifully framed by Laird Macdonald's powerful lighting design that focusses beautifully the overall narrative, combined with the intricate and varied direction of Jacquie P.A. Thomas and Thomas Ryder Paynes high energy sound design throughout.

But there are times when the script does tend to wander through a bit of rhetorical excess. The poetically spoken/near chanting of the rhyming finale, atop precarious ladders framed by sharp spots of light and surrounding darkness, is hauntingly beautiful to watch but requires slightly more detailed and empowered content regarding all that has come before. The final lines lament what may be left for future generations and round out the overall journey with a meaningful at times reassuring lament - an elegantly performed lament that could use more connection to the actual facts regarding a planet and a population that has become increasingly unbelievable and uninhabitable over the past century and a half.


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