Gorgeous, breathtaking, ground-breaking; the superlatives that can be laid at the feet of Robert Lepage for the visual feast that he achieves in The Far Side of Moon are seemingly endless. Unfortunately the narrative that should be at its core does not quite match that visual acuity.
Lepage uses the US/ Soviet space race as a metaphor for the relationship between his central characters, two brothers Philippe and Andre both played by Yves Jacques as he does the other few characters that make an appearance. Andre is the brash and flashy weatherman obsessed with nothing but his own life, while Andre is the shy and introspective one constantly searching for meaning of and in life. Both are dealing in their own way over the recent death of their mother.
Scenes meld together in Lepage’s spectacular design with images morphing from the everyday to the fantastic, at times with an almost languid pace. An ironing board becomes a bicycle or an MRI; a washing machine becomes the entry into an Apollo capsule that sees Philippe enter and seemingly float away. Panels across the back open and close to become a closet, an elevator or to reveal small astronaut puppets that have an eerily life-like quality. And so it goes, as Lepage dazzles us with amazing stage images, theatrical tricks and an ending that is so trippy you swear you’d shared in a toke with Andre earlier.
But while the technical aspects of Lepage’s story are unmatched, there was little connection to the emotional lives of the two brothers. It was at times as if the emotional connection, like the air in space, was slowly being sucked out of the room by the theatricality. Not of course that Lepage makes it easy as Jacques must play both brothers, often times with the other unheard on the other side of a telephone conversation, but there is a distance created that prevents us from feeling these men’s struggle with themselves and each other.
On opening night Jacques faltered on a couple of occasions which seems entirely out-of-place for someone who has been performing the show since 2001. Lepage will take over the role himself for the last part of the run as Jacques moves on to make a film.
Stylish, awe-inspiring and even revolutionary, Lepage lives up to his reputation as a theatrical visionary, but like his other Quebec contemporaries he doesn’t quite achieve the humanity to make it a lasting experience.
By Robert Lepage. Directed by Robert Lepage. An SFU Woodward’s and Théâtre la Seizième presentation of an Ex Machina production. On stage at SFU Woodward’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts through November 10, 2012. Visit http://sfuwoodwards.ca for tickets and information.