Normal everyday objects can and do say a lot about a person. Think about a bookshelf, sometimes people look at a someone’s bookshelf to gather an idea of that person. Or, consider what photos people take the time to frame and put on display in their homes. Objects carry meaning, and they form a larger narrative, curated by the individual.
Presented by Theatre Junction, Théâtre de la Pire Espèce’s Cities is a series of imaginary cities, as conceived by writer/director Olivier Ducas and scenographer Julie Vallée-Léger, dissected onstage. The cities are organized in seven categories, from Sand Cities to Pocket Cities to Dual Cities. Ducas presents each city’s story to the audience by using a camera to focus on particular aspects of a city, supposedly revealing its soul in the process.
The city of Myriam, for example, has plans to replicate into near-infinity, seemingly with no originality in its plans. The main concern is growth, governed by conformist policies. Ducas starts with two red blocks, embedded vertically in a box of sand, then begins to place mirrors around the blocks to create the illusion of infinity.
For the city of Maxine, which is labelled under Ghost Cities, Ducas takes out a large wooden block with tall, slim blocks compacted together. He uses semi-opaque dividers to transform the cities’ towers into different graphs of data, explaining what each set of data says about the people living in Maxine. However, the city, Ducas tells us, has chosen to present only positive data, keeping less-than-favorable statistics about its residents hidden – at this point, a light turns on at the block’s base to reveal a negative bar graph.
The objective is subjective.
An idea of interest given that the federal government is currently asking Canadians to complete the national census, or else face fines and/or jail time. Data can be manipulated to tell or support any number of narratives. Human bias cannot be separated from the equation.
Even Ducas’ presentation of these imaginary cities is corrupted by human bias. The audience is only ever given Ducas’ interpretation of what he considers the true nature of these cities. What reference does the audience have to confirm the truth any of what Ducas says? None, not only because the cities are imaginary to begin with, but also because the audience has never visited these cities. The show should be seen as a collection of tourist propaganda, so to speak, not inherent truth.
Setting aside the problematic notion of objective truth, Cities is interesting as there is no dramatic tension that develops. The show is a journey through one man’s collection of imaginary cities. And yet, the show is oddly compelling. One reason for that is the spectacle of assembling regular objects, like sugar cubes and coffee beans, to create an intimate portrait of a city, but another is the psychology behind collecting that Ducas discusses in monologues. Why do people collect? What happens when collections are completed, when the seeking ends? Ducas suggests that for some people, collecting is less of a hobby and more of an activity in purpose seeking and fulfillment.
Interestingly, the majority of Ducas’ cities have female names (Cassandra, Gloria, Scarlett, Sylvia, Cathy, and nearly a dozen more). What comes to mind are sailors who, lonely at sea, would name their ships after wives or girlfriends. Thinking about that, what assumptions can we make about Ducas and his mostly female cities? The very same we make when we enter someone’s apartment for the first time and analyze their walls and shelves for information.
Profoundly imaginative, Théâtre de la Pire Espèce’s Cities is an intimate journey through the alleys of human rationality and emotion.
Théâtre de la Pire Espèce’s Cities ran May 4 – 7 at Theatre Junction GRAND.
For more information about the show, visit: http://www.theatrejunction.com/portfolio/cities-2/