THE RIDICULOUS DARKNESS
Alley Theatre, The ANNEX, until 19th November
Photo: Wendy D Photography
My Two Pence
My Two Cents
By Penny Warwick
The Ridiculous Darkness is difficult to write about. The sheer scale of this production is staggaring, with no less than 89 – yes, eighty-nine – names listed in the cast and crew of this production; and I don’t believe that includes any of the ‘featured’ performances which easily adds another dozen or so people into this mix. It is overwhelming to know where to start. That being said, here goes.
There is a lot to be applauded in The Ridiculous Darkness. The core cast of six seamlessly moves between characters interchanging very simple costuming to indicate this hand-off and the physical theatre devises used in their initial scenes (before the addition of any props/staging) is really enjoyable to watch. Importantly, throughout the production and despite so much going on all around, these core players make the audience feel like they are in safe hands.
The problem is I don’t know what those hands were doing. I’ll try to elaborate - as an audience member, I think that not knowing any of the source materials really affected my experience of the show. It seemed to be riddled with in-jokes or satirical nods which I was not privy to and therefore spent a lot of the show confused. I was experiencing this show entirely on it’s face value and therefore cannot offer any deep insight into it’s affectiveness as a riff on Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkness.
We are introduced at the beginning to story of a pirate who is giving a defense of his actions in a trial. It ends with a street scene where we are first introduced to the magnitude of the cast for the show. Without explaination, but with a dramatic curtain change, we are then immediately taken into a new story – which is the narrative we stay with for the rest of the production, this story centered around a cocky military man and his empathetic skipper. There is so much breaking of the fourth wall that you never really know which world you are supposed to be in. The story? Real life? Are the story and real life the same thing? Is that the point they are trying to make?
It is hard to go into detail without spoilers, and I really don’t want to spoil this show. I believe you should go and see it for yourself. That being said, the farmers scene is truly hilarious and poignant all at once as we see a very intelligent dramatisation centred on ignorance and labelling. There are many surprises in this show which on occasion are absolutely heart-stopping, again, I will avoid spoilers because I want you to experience it as it is intended.
Alley Theatre’s ubiquitous inclusivity in this production is unlike any other production that I have seen. Ultimately, unfortunately, I feel like they took on too much and the result feels very fragmented and confused. The production, much like a scene near the end of the play where there were too many voices saying too many different things all at once, becomes overwhelming and, well, ridiculous.
The Ridiculous Darkness may not have quite hit the mark, but maybe the point is there isn’t one.
By Lillian Jasper
The Ridiculous Darkness certainly lives up to his name. I wasn’t sure what to expect going in, and frankly I’m still not sure what I witnessed. It wasn’t your average play by any stretch of the imagination. Some refer to it as a “performance event” - apt, but doesn’t really cover it. It’s a mosaic, a collage, a culture crawl without having to leave the theatre.
The show was expanded from an absurdist radio play by German writer Wolfram Lotz, based on Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, thus also Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness. I have a working knowledge of both (granted from some time ago), but was still left fairly baffled by the proceedings. The six principal players (ranging at times from satisfactory to brilliant) rotate playing the lead and supporting roles, a gimmick that’s not uncommon in absurdist plays. It keeps the play disorienting, which is a fair choice for the subject matter, but it does mean the audience has to work very hard to keep up. The constant fourth-wall breaking didn’t help in this regard either. I understand that much of it was meant to be funny, and a lot of it was, but so much interruption of the action made it difficult to get emotionally invested.
Throughout, there are brilliant, random and unexpected moments that I don’t want to spoil - in fact, programs were only handed out at the end of the performance, to keep us “in the dark”, one would assume. This does work in their favour. However, with the inclusion of so many community groups, it often felt cluttered. I appreciated their commitment to inclusivity, but sometimes it felt tacked on as an afterthought, or poorly integrated. Other moments, however, were incredibly moving, some even miraculous.
The Ridiculous Darkness is messy and beautiful, epic and perhaps intentionally unpolished. I do wonder if we couldn’t have just seen a play focused solely on Vancouver’s vibrant co-existing communities, instead of trying to cram them all into the bizarre context of Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness. There’s only a certain amount of work you can expect an audience to do, but they are pushing the boundaries of theatre at this point. It’s for its sheer audacity that I would recommend it. You may hate it, or you may love it, but I doubt you will be able to stop thinking about it.