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preview posterASSEMBLY
Radix Theatre
Mambo Ballroom, Pacific Palisades Hotel
1277 Robson St.
March 28-April 7
604-231-7535 or

(This is Jerry's review of the original 2007 production)

Radix describes its latest site-specific work, Assembly, as “an artistic exploration into the themes of wholeness and fragmentation, gathered around contemporary notions of the body, mind, and soul. … Assembly is a surreal self-improvement seminar that confronts the desire for unity in an increasingly divided world. … Bizarre breakout sessions offer equal parts tongue-in-cheek parody and absurdist drama, as we unlock our deepest desires and try to remember what getting together is all about.”

Staged in a hotel meeting room, it does begin as something like a self-improvement seminar.  The audience is addressed by four actors (Katy Harris-McLeod, Andrew Laurenson, Billy Marchenski, and Emelia Symington Fedy) who tell us, “We believe that you can get whatever you want.  We’re here to make you happy.”  Marchenski asks us what we want and writes our answers on a flip chart.  Harris-McLeod uses Powerpoint projections to illustrate her Star System: every desire has five points; figure out where you are on the star.  Feel it, name it, grab it, own it, the new you.  Hmmm… that last one isn’t exactly parallel, but so what.  The young audience on the night I went was very generous, more than willing to play along and to laugh at nearly everything, even when the targets of the tongue-in-cheek parody were easy, clichéd, and familiar.

The best of these presentations is Fedy’s.  Using mostly mime, she hilariously divides people into two types.  “I get what I want because I’m a (cunt).  And you’re all a bunch of (pussies).”  You have to see it.

The most effective elements of the first part of the show are a couple of Truth and Dare games where real feelings and deepest desires are in some ways unlocked.  In one version the four actors take turns saying what they hate about each other, then what they love.  In the other version the audience is polled about things we do and feel: how many people here smoke grass? lie? look in the toilet bowl after you’ve had a shit? want to have sex with someone in this room? People giggle and blush and put up their hands.  It’s strangely liberating.

In the second half of the show the self-help seminar dissolves into a series of surrealist images as we follow the actors into another room. Fedy, who has told us how liberating her solo Hawaiian vacations have been, is found lying nude on a video-projected beach. Laurenson’s apparently severed head speaks a monologue as it floats in a box which projects a light onto the audience. In less than an hour it’s all over and we get to eat fancy chocolates.

This kind of surreal performance art is not my favourite genre, but Assembly is relatively painless, sometimes amusing, and at moments revelatory.  It may seem a little pricey for what it is, but hey, how often do you get to unlock your deepest desires in so safe a way.  And the chocolate is damn good.

Jerry Wasserman