BY SARAH BERMAN, VANCOUVER SUN
On the heels of the holidays, theatre director Kim Collier has reunited with her Electric Company kin. Best known for genre-bending works of multimedia spectacle, Collier’s latest work is a stripped-down familial affair.
“In this production we’ve brought together a family, literally,” Collier says of All the Way Home, her company’s intimate reimagining of Tad Mosel’s Pulitzer-winning script.
Close-knit is an understatement. Collier is married to cast member Jonathon Young, while Young’s father George plays the part of his dad. Lead actors Meg Roe and Allesandro Juliani are offstage life partners, while young brothers Jordan and Aidan Wessels round out the cast.
Roe says the result is a deep yet relaxed set atmosphere.
“Allessandro plays my brother, which sounds strange,” she says. “But we already have such intimate relationships with each other, the performance is richer for it.”
Blood relations aside, the production’s main draw is its lack of production. Lighting is minimal and voices are largely unamplified.
Most notably, the audience will join the cast on the Queen Elizabeth Theatre stage.
“The furthest you could be is 30 feet away from the action,” Collier says of the embedded audience. Adventurous viewers may easily find themselves sharing a couch with a character or peering across the stage piano. “It’s close enough to see what’s happening in their eyes.”
Because of space limitations, only 150 people will inhabit the house benches and chairs each night. By mixing seats and sight lines, Collier aims to transform the stage into the lived-in rooms of a family home. “The young and nimble will tuck in onto pillows on the floor,” she says.
“You can sit right next to my feet,” Roe says.
The story, adapted from the James Agee novel A Death in the Family, is a tough one to take in. With a focus on grief and the unexpected loss of a family member, the detail-driven plot picks at a universal notion of suffering. Taking place over three days yet spanning generations, the piece is a razor-sharp slice of life.
It’s the type of small-scale human tragedy that lends itself to the Electric Company’s personal interpretation. With the setting relocated to First World War-era interior British Columbia, the play may hit closer to home in Vancouver. Traditional songs from Roe’s family tree are woven throughout the script.
Collier had been itching to play with the audience-performer relationship in this way for a long time.
“I’ve had an immersive piece in mind for years now,” she says. “It’s not easy to get a show funded and going. I think it’s been five or six years I’ve been thinking about it.”
The result is a significant break from the tech-heavy productions that have shaped her career. Tear the Curtain, Collier’s last Electric Company undertaking, was an acclaimed hybrid of theatre and film. But you won’t see any of the same dazzling multimedia at the Queen Elizabeth.
Collier’s scrapped the projected video interludes and hydraulic-powered sets this time. Instead, All the Way Home promises a cappella choruses and candlelit moments of bald heartache. (Maybe a glimmer of hope, too.)
It might be a new direction for the Electric Company, but All the Way Home remains in keeping with the group’s innovative spirit.
“We often want to move toward territory that we haven’t visited in awhile,” Collier says.
“In some ways it’s a much simpler production technically, but in a lot of ways it’s not that low-tech.”
Collier cites the difficulty of scoring voice-only refrains without the aid of recorded cues. Then there’s the acting precision required to emote under such close scrutiny. Not easy tasks to accomplish, she says, regardless of gadgets. “This way we can position people inside the actions and put attention into the reality.”
With seven shows over five days, Collier says there are site-specific surprises tailored to the venue.
“It’s a reversal from where the audience normally is,” she says. “A couple moments we own the site.”
Roe says it’s this kind of inventiveness that won Collier Canada’s prestigious Siminovitch prize in 2010. “She creates theatrical magic, either with a whole bunch of toys, or just a bunch of great actors.”
“It’s been a real pleasure to work with a different set of rules,” says Collier.
For this theatre company, it seems rules are meant to be broken.
At a glance
All the Way Home
When: Tuesday, to Jan. 14
Where: Queen Elizabeth Theatre, 649 Cambie
Tickets: $20-30 from tickets.vancouverplayhouse.com or call 604-873-3311
Originally published January 3, 2012. Photo by Michael Julian Berz. Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/Home+keeps+family/5947037/story.html#ixzz1izHi0N6I