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The Monument: trying to confront the unjustifiable - Drew Rowsome - MyGayToronto

The Monument: trying to confront the unjustifiable
20 March 2018

by Drew Rowsome
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The Monument begins with a riveting monologue set in a mysterious woodland full of ominous hanging vines. Augusto Bitter (Lear) - bound to a chair and able only to use his voice, facial expressions and physical tension - attempts to explain, even justify, crimes that are unjustifiable. He claims that there are no bad dogs, only dogs with bad owners. Layers of deception and self-deception pile on, fall away and he arouses a fascination with the repellent. It is a virtuoso performance.

Ninety minutes later, Tamara Podemski (An Enemy of the People) erupts in an explosion of pure grief and anger that shakes the theatre. Her emotions are so precisely calibrated and artfully conveyed that the character not only reveals itself to the naked core but also manages to resolve, as if by force of will, the disparate metaphors, the threads, that have run through the previous scenes. It is a virtuoso performance.

The Monument tackles a plethora of hot button issues in a scattershot fashion. Bitter's Stelko has committed heinous crimes against humanity and the question of his complicity is debated. Are men inherently violent and evil? Does following orders and/or joining the status quo when the mob is evil, excuse those crimes? Is revenge even possible without damning one's own soul? How does one mourn the unjust? Stockholm syndrome, dominance and submission, rape as a weapon, sexual dysfunction, violence as catharsis, post-apocalyptic life, genocide and even animal abuse are mixed in. It is a heady and rather exhausting mixture when played out in a semi-absurdist fashion.

Director Jani Lauzon (Blood Weddings) further ups the ante by overlaying the proceedings with the horrors of the rapes and murders of indigenous women. The play by Colleen Wagner has been previously utilized to refer to specific war zones and ethnic cleansings, and to consider the Canadian treatment of our aboriginal population, even in contemporary terms, a genocide is not a stretch. Some of the words may have been changed - there is an awkward disconnect between references to "reserves" and "machine guns" - and while it works metaphorically, there is a disconnect in the execution and text. 

The irony of two extraordinary theatrical performances in conflict with what has become a performance art polemic, is almost redeemed by the set design of Elahe Marjovi which blooms from an enveloping environment into a visual metaphor that is heartbreaking and stunning. It falls just short of breathtaking because of the preceding attention to realism in the depiction of violence perpetrated on Stelko. This makes the rape and murders, the violence that is so impossible to even contemplate that it is handled metaphorically, perpetrated on the women an abstraction. The skill and commitment of Bitter and Podemski push the metaphor into near reality where the theatrical becomes art, but the effort required shows, and the power of the moment is diminished.

The Monument raises crucial questions that perhaps there are no answers for, and the exploration is earnest and well-meaning. It is also unrelenting in intensity - just how does Bitter sustain that barely contained energy? - punctuated by an overbearing sonic landscape by Deanna H Choi that pronounces The Monument's importance to the verge of pomposity. This also drains the energy of the cat and mouse games, turning them into philosophical debates when it should be life and death. The intellect applied - the contradictory rituals of the scene changes, the vines that are nooses and bindings and blood and the loom of the fates, the monument base as a stage - should not be debated while in the heat, the heart, of the action. And with so much at stake, it is unsettling to be concerned about just what happened to the bunny in the basket.

The Monument continues until Sun, April 1 at Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst St. factorytheatre.ca

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