Performance Spring continues over at Factory with The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios, a play written by celebrated Canadian novelist Yann Martel (pictured). Roccamatios is Martel’s sole dramatic work, and the script is actually adapted from one of his 1993 short stories of the same name. Eric Goulem is the performer in the one man show, in which he tells the audience the story of his friend Paul who, when they were both in University in the 1980s, discovered that he had contracted HIV through a blood transfusion. As Paul’s physically condition rapidly worsens, the two young men decide to embark on an ambitious yet strange project together before he dies. Each day, they meet and tell each other a story about a fictional family, the Roccamatios of Helsinki. Each story metaphorically represents a major event in a consecutive year of the 20th Century, beginning with the death of Queen Victoria in 1901.
The subject matter is certainly depressing, so don’t go expecting a feel-good show, but Martel’s writing is typically beautiful and captivating. The production, however, while competent, leaves something to be desired. The design of the show, with projected slides and paper print-outs related to the events the Roccamatio stories are based on, is visually interesting, but ultimately meaningless. In fact, it seems to serve as a sort of distraction to keep you from noticing that no real dramatic action is being shown on stage. Without having read the short story, it’s hard to know how much adaptation has or hasn’t gone on, but it basically just feels like Goulem has memorized the short story word for word and is speaking it back to you. And speaking of memorization, there were a few dodgy moments in last night’s performance, which is a real shame as Goulem otherwise presents a very likable and compelling storyteller. The whole thing feels like it could have used an extra week of rehearsal. There’s also a really frustrating issue in the script itself in that, true to its title, it doesn’t report any of the stories of the Helsinki Roccamatios, but only the facts behind them. While this conceit may work fine in a short story, on stage the result often degenerates into hearing a person list off trivia about World War II. The play and its production are not bad so much as they are flawed. But we wouldn’t blame you if you decided to stay home and read the book instead.
The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios plays at Factory until May 25.