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Theatre review: You Are Very Star fails to pull us into its worlds

At the Vancouver Space Centre on Saturday night, the discussion inevitably turned to memories of laser rock shows and the consumption of those “special” brownies one eats before listening to Pink Floyd.  Perhaps Electric Company Theatre should take a cue from those equally trippy shows by suggesting a similar “augmentation” to enhance the experience of its newest site-specific show, You Are Very Star.

Marsha Regis, Chirag Naik, and Dalal Badr in Electric Company’s You Are Very Star. Photo by Tim Matheson.

Marsha Regis, Chirag Naik, and Dalal Badr in Electric Company’s You Are Very Star. Photo by Tim Matheson.

Billed as an immersive trans-media experience, You Are Very Star begins before you arrive at the theatre with an online prologue that you are encouraged to view prior to your chosen performance.  During the prologue you are also encouraged to provide a phone number to receive text messages, follow them on Twitter and on Facebook.  By embracing the social media world that so many of us currently live in, Electric Company is moving theatre outside its traditional boundaries, something that this theatre company does so well.  But beyond a couple of initial text messages, there is disappointingly little follow-on.  Intrigued at first, all week I was hoping to be pulled further into the experience and on the night of the performance I was disappointed that there wasn’t something more to bring it full circle (how cool would it have been to get a text during intermission or [gasp] during the show itself?).

There is a certain irony about a show that purports to embrace our socially connected lives with a first act that is decidedly low-tech (think old school overhead projectors and a record player) and a second act that takes that notion of being always connected to the extreme, before seemingly advocating a disconnection from that same technology.  But while exploring those larger themes might make for interesting post-show conversations, the narrative that should draw us into the worlds of those characters to explore those larger discussions fails to hit its mark.

In act one’s 1968 we bear witness to the birth of an odd new “Soar Dove Movement”, but in Electric Company Theatre style we watch that evolution in reverse.  Problem here is that the development of this new movement never quite comes into focus.  By the time the reverse timeline plays out we’ve forgotten what has become before it. We’re served a hodgepodge of the decade’s references amidst Naomi Sider’s fun 1960’s costumes, but the lack of any emotional connection with the characters or their story makes the reversal of a linear story little more than a theatrical contrivance.

In act two, we’re transported to 2048 where humans have evolved with near computer-like qualities; a global collective of humans that are able to experience multiple things at one time, limited only by the bandwidth available.  In fact, that bandwidth issue is explored briefly as one of the future inhabitants is able to harness the ubiquitous Vancouver rain as a new pipe for their ever demanding need for data.  But along with that cleverness and some stunning visuals, we also get a derivative fight sequence that takes place inside the heads of two characters.

Playing different characters in the two time-periods, the cast here is uniformly good.  Michael Rinaldi brings a surprising comedic turn to the role of the Professor in 1968, although he gets little to do in act two as the father of the future’s augmentation.  Marsha Regis gives the best performance of the night as Esther, the young black artist who is caught up in the politics of the time.  Patti Allan effectively straddles both times with a funny gender-bend as Earle Birney in 1968 and as Starr, one of the few remaining non-augmented humans.  That there was no connection between the characters from the two time periods though felt like a wasted opportunity.

As site-specific theatre, it is surprising to find out how little the Space Centre’s centerpiece, the Zeiss Jena star projector is actually used.  With act one taking place inside the Centre’s basement theatre and only the last ten minutes of the production inside the planetarium’s dome with the star projector, it felt disappointingly underused.  Building the stage for act two on top of the mechanism became increasingly distracting as the stage was dismantled to reveal the projector for those final brief moments.

At times a little trippy even without the aid of a brownie, that trippiness only goes so far and You Are Very Star failed to pull me into its worlds.  With the Space Centre retiring its mammoth star machine and other analog equipment this summer for a fully digital process, I was glad to be able to experience it before it disappears.  But adding an intermission filled with a scavenger hunt through the Centre’s various exhibits, it only added to the the reminder of just how long it had been since I visited the planetarium; I’m just not sure that reminder was a desired outcome.

You Are Very Star

Created by Craig Erickson, Georgina Beaty, Kevin Kerr, Naomi Sider, Veronique West and Sarah Sharkey.  Directed by David Hudgins.  An Electric Company Theatre production.  On stage at the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre through June 29, 2013.

Mark Robins on Google+

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