Yves Jacques has mail. Photo by Emmanuel Valette.
Robert Lepage is having a moment. Probably Canada’s most internationally-renowned theatre artist, the visionary actor/director/writer is making a big splash south of the border with his controversial production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His dance show Eonnagata (featuring costumes by the late Alexander McQueen) will be making a two-night appearance at the Sony Centre next month. And playing right now at the Bluma Appel Theatre (the second show of the Matthew Jocelyn era of the Canadian Stage), is his powerful one-man show The Andersen Project. We do not consider it an exaggeration to call this show perfect.
The Andersen Project follows Frederic, an albino Canadian pop songwriter who gets an unlikely commission by the Paris Opera to create a new opera for children based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Dryad.” It’s an exciting opportunity, but Frederic’s life is in shambles. He has traded apartments with his drug-addicted friend Didier (who happens to live over a peep show–style maison de porn), meaning he must look after both Didier’s dog, and his antagonistic relationship with local drug dealers. Meanwhile, he struggles to reconnect with his estranged pop singer wife, and has a difficult time dealing with Arnaud, one of the suits at the Opera (a man with a whole slew of his own problems).
It’s tempting to read some amount of autobiography into The Andersen Project: Lepage is also a Québécois artist who has worked in opera, and surely the ostracizing Frederic feels his albinism has cost him echoes similar experiences Lepage must have had as a result of his alopecia. All of the characters (which includes Frederic, Arnaud, a Moroccan janitor, Andersen’s Dryad, and Andersen himself) are played by a single performer: originally, Lepage himself. But as the show’s popularity grew (it was first staged in 2005 and has now played in ten different countries), he passed the reins over to Yves Jacques of Denis Arcand’s The Barbarian Invasions and The Decline of the American Empire.
Don’t worry about not getting to see Lepage perform his own work—Jacques’ performance is virtuosic. Whether he’s delivering an bilingual filibuster as Arnaud, inhabiting the incredibly human loneliness experienced by Frederic, or simply making a lightning-fast costume change, Jacques is hilarious, heartbreaking, and compelling. Of course, as it’s a Lepage show, the co-star is the design. There are some stagecraft surprises that are so spectacular we don’t actually want to spoil them by telling you about them in advance. Lepage and his team use video projections, trompe l’oeil, puppetry techniques and what we can only assume are conveyor belts to constantly delight the eye. Audible gasps were heard on opening night, and not only did the evening receive a five minute standing ovation at the end, but individual scenes also routinely garnered rounds of applause, owing either to their technical wizardry, or Jacques’ performance, or both.
It’s not often that we see a show that leaves us without the smallest complaint or quibble. The Andersen Project is one of those shows. Go see it.
The Andersen Project runs until October 30.