REVIEW: Embrace Anxiety with a brave heart

Anxiety GgCity EdmontonEdmonton’s “Theatre Yes” is not a company to sit us in theatre seats while we watch thespians perform. It demands that audiences not just join in but give themselves to the experience. No, you will not be expected to create a character, read lines or engage in improve, but you are drawn into a shared theatrical consciousness in compelling ways.

Those of an adventurous nature may recall their earlier effort at pushing the bounds of our common conception of theatre, The Elevator Project, which saw small, venturesome dramatic concepts staged in downtown elevators – with audiences going from venue to venue.

For their current production, Anxiety, created by director Heather Inglis and Murray Cullen, the company devised a challenge for some six Canadian small alt-theatre companies. Each was sent a package that contained a series of artifacts and objects and some general instructions. The contents were to inspire them in the creation of a 10 minute dramatic vignette that mirrors these anxiety-filled times. The internet? The wobbly economy? Climate change? Donald Trump! With companies are from Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Regina, Edmonton and Victoria, the troupes were to create something with a live performance or an instillation to be staged with a maximum of two actors – a short play, an experience, an immersive event that would be presented in a series of different locations.

And so on Sunday evening we found ourselves a hardy band of theatrical questers gathered at La Cite Francophone ready for a trip into the unknown. It runs through December 4th.

The basis of this is the entire evening is one of discovery, and to go into much detail will defeat the aims of the production itself. In fact, we sign a disclaimer promising not to “share direct facts on social media.” The constant drumbeat of anxiety begins at the very beginning.

What follows is part seance, EST, compulsive therapy and an eerie sense that something is not quite right. It’s all desperately held together by a company of handlers who seem spooked themselves. They keep telling us to stay close together and lulling us with soothing chants. We are separated into small groups and ushered into a series of rooms where we watch characters who are living under great pressure. No, it is not a Halloween scare show (although there are unsettling moments), but a genuine effort to mirror the anxiety of our time in the lives of these people. The staging is as simple as a man in a hospital bed ranging to a very complex multi-camera display.

As is the way of these things, some of the works fare better than others but all add to the whole. It’s very serious but there is one segment where a Halifax troop of puppeteers have created a jerry-rigged cockamamie world of the future (at the Ralph Klein Memorial Hospital no less – I thought he blew that one up) where the doctor is anything but empathetic. Or human.

The cast is large and the small rooms may be primitive but it all works well and the sense of dread and disquiet is ably maintained. Local playwright Cat Walsh has provided the connective tissue which includes some kind of thing (primal animal? Jason? The demon Pazuzu? Runaway computer?) that generates a lot of smoke, loud noise and bright light while threatening to break down the door and attack us all. Thank goodness it didn’t. At least, it didn’t on the night we were there.

Talk about anxiety.