The play begins with Mike Iveson as Father Mumbles dressed in cardinal's garb narrating the action of a kitchen sink drama between husband, Fritz (Vin Knight), and wife Mabrel Fitzhubert (Laurena Allan). No opinion of this relationship can be made before Local Representative Whetsun (Greig Sargeant) enters and disrupts the meal. A secret door is opened, a bible brought to stage, and numerous stilted conversations (which include consistent Vonnegut-esque mispronunciations,) occur before the scene changes swiftly to a Hotel in the Alps. The action that follows centers on these three, and a few other tourists, as they are caught in the crossfires of a battle between smothered European paganism and Roman Christianity.
Other moments, perhaps from a hidden theme and variation, dot the story landscape, including Winnifr'd Bexell's (Kate Benson) transformation into a mermaid, the plight of Peggy Gladys the virginal maid, and appearance of The Krampus (Ben Jalosa Williams) turning the nonsensical dream into a nonsensical nightmare. Also, not to forget the random and all intrusive narration of Collette Richland ( April Matthis), an off-brand 1980's radio Oprah.
When the performers wink and nudge in an experimental performance, one is reminded of the hypothesis at hand. The focus shifts to the performer's goal which is outside themselves or textural poetry. However, when actors in a dismantled landscape play balk at the oddities happening around them, it comes off with the self-congratulatory air of a comedian laughing at their own jokes and leaves the audience wondering if there is anything more than a desperation for attention that brought the fantastical images to the stage.
Unlike the landscape drama of Pina Bausch, Robert Wilson, or Gertrude Stein, where symphonic action reigns unobstructed by the needs of an attention-deficient audience, or arbitrary necessity of dramatic form, ERS' staging remains grounded to these former experimental ambitions. In works like Arguendo, the company's improv based allegro served to keep clinical text afloat. In this work, portions of text by Kempson touch with quiet poignancy and delicacy. None the less, the performers speed read through the play either due to or despite the thought that lies beneath the surface.
Success is reliably reached through the craftsmanship in this performance. Direction by John Collins is unendingly inventive. Performances at their worst are still impressive. Kaneza Schaal as Velede and Vin Knight as Peggy Gladys left a lingering flavor after leaving the theatre. Stage design by David Zinn managed to cultivate the many worlds of the play while simultaneously allowing for visual freedom for staging. Sound design by Ben Jalosa Williams, if abrasive, was exact and impressively integrated into the performance space. Mark Barton's lighting painted the space with a sincerity often superior to the non-dramatic action taking place.
ERS' experimental works have helped to find new territory in the minds of its audience. New understandings on the life of text outside of the page and integrated into performance were brought to life by the warmth of their artists. Fondly, Collette Richlan" proves that their creative spark is blazing but is ultimately left squandered with nothing to fuel. The production expounds with delight and novelty which left more than a couple audience members satisfied. But I found little about its newness experimental. Experimental, much like fun, is not an aesthetic but an action and a result.