The Genius Code
Surreal SoReal Theatre
C103 Theatre Space (formerly the Catalyst Theatre)
8529 Gateway Blvd. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
780 431 1750
Through Sunday June 8, 2014
Theatre review by GRAHAM HICKS
How the definition of playwright has changed.
It’s not just about words and scripts any more.
Enabled by new techniques, thanks to an understanding of what technology can do, it’s about another invisible supporting cast for the experience of emotion and mood and interior dialogue.
Jon Lachlan Stewart’s Genius Code, at the C103 (formerly Catalyst Theatre) through June 8, is all about taking the theatre experience, live on that stage, into new and quite exciting dimensions.
The words are relatively straight forward - the attraction, then love/hate affair between two tumultuous artists with vicious tempers and a tendency to self-destruction, mixed in with the silent witness of a third pal - a sound engineer/dj - to whom the lovers have given permission to record their every word at the beginning of the doomed romance … a withdrawn, asexual pal living life through his friends.
But here’s the rub, the new dimension of the theatrical experience that Stewart and his aural/audio/visual design crews introduce and play with.
In the theatre, the audience is instructed to don headsets placed on every chair - each labelled as one of the three characters - Gyl (Laura Metcalfe) the female event producer/artist, Sky (Jamie Cavanagh) the filmmaker, Gene (Cole Humeny) the sound engineer and invisible witness.
In a technological tour-de-force, the live verbal action on stage is interspersed with the inner thoughts of the three characters.
Those thoughts have been pre-recorded, inserted at the same time into the narrative. Depending on whose thoughts your headphone has been assigned, you are privy to what Sky or Gyl and Gene is actually thinking.
Then, simultaneously on all the headsets, the dialogue returns to the live stage, to what is being expressed by the spoken word, not the internal thoughts.
The technical effort - recording the separate voices, inserting them into the exact same time-frame - must have been immense, but more than worthwhile to open up a new dimension of story-telling.
Technologically speaking, it was flawless - the interplay between private and public worlds being seamless.
About half-way through the show, the audience is instructed to take off the headphones. Because, as the characters shed their inhibitions, as the lovers’ relationship spirals downward and the three-way relationship grows more entangled, their interior thoughts are being verbalized. There’s no longer the need to eavesdrop on the interior - those painful kept-to-oneself thoughts are now being full-bore expressed.
Equally as interesting as this interior/exterior exploration was Stewart’s indirect observations on a generation which - given social media’s let’s tell everybody everything - has a very different concept of privacy compared to its predecessors.
Sky and Gyl give their pal Gene the sound engineer their full permission to record their courtship as it happens. On one level is the interior monologue - the peeping into each character’s thoughts. On another is the fact these characters, this generation, has no hesitation to throw open their private lives to the public. When Gene’s recordings of their conversations become a hit, the issue isn’t about compromised intimacy, but about commercial issues to do with sales!
The plot itself is from the mind of a rapidly maturing, very talented but still young playwright.
The characters are slightly stereotypic and even cliched - the wierd but loving friend, the hot-blooded filmmaker, the event producer - but the themes and emotions are universal.
It’s the use of sound technology - and the technology of the visual images thrown up on a vast back-drop behind the actors - that is the drawing power of this show. What could be intriguing will be the evolution of Stewart’s plots and narratives along with a deepening understanding of the use of unusual technology to underscore/change what is presented on stage.
The Genius Code is one of the most interesting shows of the 2013/14 season. Not to be missed.