Today is a world where so many of us are all struggling to define exactly who we are and at the same time, advertisement agencies prey on this vulnerability to try and sell us what we think we should be. Gravy Bath Productions is a step away from the usual norm; their attempt to bring innovative, creative methods to original (as well as classical) works to the stage. This company considers their theatre as a continuous process to improve with each new show. They carry the ambition to make each show better then the last and aim higher for the next. Their methods seem to be working because their annual New Classical Theatre Festival is well known for past seasons that included Coriolanus, Ugly, Henry Oct 1970 and Top Gun Circus. This season Tony Palermo and Madd Herold have jointly created a new, very original piece saturated with multiple layers. Palermo commented that if one looked, they could see almost anything in this piece – including something to show us who we are. This is a piece that intends to speak to multiple generations and people of many ethnic backgrounds: "Kali Yuga" spans over three decades and multiple countries.
The show is a fascinating combo of talents: Herold and Palermo first drafted a creative outline with certain end goals; then, they had the cast practice countless hours of improvisation that were later transcribed by Palermo into a stabilized script. Creating "Kali Yuga" could definitely be described as time-consuming but Palermo assured me that ultimately it was a totally rewarding experience for cast and crew. The 10 actors were the main force behind developing the characters and their input kept the script full of energy and creativity. With Palermo's fine tuning and clear over-view the play holds together as a mesh of interweaving allegories.
Work started in October 2003 and has been a continuous project to culminate for the August 2004 festival. It's a fairly long evening of theatre but Palermo assures me that the pacing and action keeps the time flying by. As this is not the type of company to cling stubbornly to overly wordy text or traditional norms, expect some surprising twists. Limited props and strong physical actors, who develop the show with their strength of personality and faith in theatre, sets Gravybath productions apart from their more sedate peers. The three act play "Kali Yuga" follows an earlier generation and later their offspring's procession through life. Starting in the 60's and ending in the 90's the play nurtures creativism to create cycles of time, generation and periods. As one might guess from the title, "Kali Yuga" involves Hinduism and ancient Indian mysticism while simultaneously depicting intimate Montreal histories.
In many cultures there exists a belief in the cycles of life that govern our existence. Kali Yuga is the Indian belief that there are four cycles we endlessly follow through eternity: golden, silver, bronze and iron. At first the days are golden, the beautiful and simple days of existence where life seems to happen with natural goodness. Gradually society decays to the later stages where we progress through silver to bronze to the final darker sides of self-destruction: iron. The cycles of kali Yuga follow with comforting repetition: this is not the first time and it will not be the last. Of course, our continued inability to sustain the good life is somewhat depressing.
The play is set in Montreal in an antique shop in order to indicate that all objects have an interesting story to value if one takes the time to listen. The people and things that travel through our lives write their passage in unsung stories; these are the tales Herold and Palermo are interested in telling. They claim there is exist a sense of universality in ethnic plays that can appeal to a wide and general audience, regardless of location. With their certain stylization of the scenes and a strong use of icons they present a unique view of the everyday.
The first act opens in the 60's as the dawn of idealism: there are opportunities ready for the taking and every man has reason to believe he can succeed. Of course, there are also definite causes to rebel against. The structure of the first act revolves around light, playful fun. A sense of exposition, hedonism and revelry exist in this small, safe known world.
The second act focuses on the 80's and the end of the Cold War. The micro and macrocosm reflect each other quite readily in this portion. The separation of Pakistan and India while fighting of Kashmir is eerily to the early breakdowns of the nuclear family. Divorce is happening and children are caught in the middle. The dark deeds of corporate corruption, AIDS and cocaine are become prevalent. Characters travel to Bombay and India to examine who and what they are in relation to the world. Reflecting real life, "Kali Yuga" portrays the expansion in the big scary world where there are amazing novelties followed by terrifying consequences. Act two is actually split into two parts: Pressure and Explosion. People are going further and pushing harder but things can only happen so fast before the backlash starts.
Act three follows a different structure and is based around 'now'. This is the act of the lost and confused. The current generation faces the challenge of wandering and wondering exactly what to do with their life in the face of too many options and not enough guidelines. This is the ever-changing multi-faced world where the newest technology becomes old in the blink of an eye. People even start to wonder if the older generations aren't more lucky: they've lived their lives and no longer have to face the uncertainties to come. They don't have to start a new company knowing that the majority fail or go bankrupt. The intricacies of advertisement and market predictions call for skills above and beyond the average mortal. The golden days are gone. The question is "where do we go from here?" The current present finds us in the final and darkest hour of iron, but instead of ending on a completely pessimistic note one is again reminded that this is the completion of another cycle and re-birth will come.
As Palermo faced the challenges of portraying over three decades, two generations and multiple countries on one small stage and limited props, it meant that the show could not be static or predictable. The third is a very different act from the first or the second. This is a big show with a big story and there are very few limits. Palermo shared the fact that almost all the props are recycled, found in the garages and basements of cast and crew or borrowed from earlier productions held at the Saidye. Costumes are also borrowed or brought from home. This is a style of theatre that depends the actor's talent and the audience's imagination. When it works, there is nothing more powerful then the connection formed between audience and actor. There are no distractions, there are limited props to clutter the eye or unnecessary words to confuse the ear. This is the type of style that has confidence in the production and forces the audience to surrender their view point to the production. Theater is meant to be a reflection of the audience and their life; relating to human beings is one of Gravybath's mandates. They strive for a human quality in the staging, lighting, scenes and props to produce a realistic energy. Rebelling against theater companies who spend thousands of dollars on their craft is what makes theater magical for Palermo. Year after year Gravybath puts out a strong show with little or no money. As they do not receive grants there are no restrictions and little restrain on creative potential. They have free hands when it comes to realizing their production dreams. By focusing on the voice of the body and acting they find themselves following the philosophy of 'needing what you have and having no need for what you do not possess. Take what you can and work with it.' The body itself ends up becoming the set, moving of different levels and drawing the audience along with it. As this production is held on Saidye's second, smaller stage it promises to be an intimate, almost interactive, production.
The production runs August 3 to 19th on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays at 7pm on the Second stage at the Saidye Bronfmann Centre. The show moves to Toronto to show from September 5 till the 25th .
Ticket information : 739-2301.