Theatre review: Initiation Trilogy blurs the boundaries of art

Poetry, like jazz, can be an acquired taste.  Fortunately there are innovative groups willing to take risks in changing perceptions around art forms.  With Initiation Trilogy, Vancouver’s Electric Company Theatre takes up that challenge in a mostly successful theatrical encounter inspired by the work of three Vancouver poets.

Wendy Morrow Donaldson, Emma Lindsay, Colleen Wheeler in Initiation Trilogy.  Photo by Michael Julian Berz.Held in a trio of secret locations on Granville Island (four if you count the hub where we found ourselves returning between acts), the audience is broken up into a three groups and ushered to one of the venues.  As all three venues are running simultaneously, the order in which an audience group will experience Initiation Trilogy will vary … but more on that later.

First up for our group was Jennica Harper’s What It Feels Like For A Girl. With its solid narrative, this was the most compelling piece of the evening.  Performed in a space that elicits visions of a live-action peep show, Emma Lindsay and Jennifer Paterson are tremendous in their portrayals of the two young girls exploring their friendship and sexual awakening.  At times, given the nature of Naomi Sider’s set design, it was just as interesting to watch the faces of the other voyeurs in the room as it was the action taking place in front of us.

Next up was God of Missed Connections, author Elizabeth Bachinsky’s collection of poems becomes an exploration of tradition and the realities of the modern world.  In a location, design and with technical aspects that felt eerily like something from the set of the next Saw movie, the trio of actors (Haig Sutherland, Colleen Wheeler, Wendy Morrow Donaldson) are surprisingly successful in bringing focus to what are the most disparate pieces of poetry of the night.  This piece is all about creating a mood and it delivers in spades.

In the final performance we delve into the home and lives of six of polygamist and Mormon leader Joseph Smith’s wives.  Moving from room to room in the claustrophobic space designed by Naomi Sider, recordings of poems from Marita Dachsel’s Glossolalia conjures images of life in the Smith homestead.  With its museum-like installation, the fragments of stories from these wives, while perhaps true to title of the piece, felt incomplete and distant; by the end of the encounter I felt no connection to what I had just heard.

Interestingly the conversation at the end of the evening revolved around how seeing the three performances in a specific order might affect ones connection to a particular piece.  While playwright Marita Dachsel claims there is no correct order, it was evident that the first performance each group sees may be the most impactful, as we are captivated by the uniqueness of that first experience.

With Initiation Trilogy, Electric Company Theatre reinforces its reputation for blurring the boundaries of art forms with this blend of poetry and theatrics.  Like jazz, though, it won’t be to everyone’s taste.

3 1/2 of 5 Stars Initiation Trilogy

By Marita Dachsel.  Created with Naomi Sider, Kevin Kerr and Anita Rochon.  Based on poetry collections by Marita Dachsel, Elizabeth Bachinsky and Jennica Harper. Directed by Anita Rochon.  An Electric Company Theatre production.  On stage at various locations on Granville Island.  Visit http://www.electriccompanytheatre.com for tickets and information.

Photo credit: Michael Julian Berz.

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