I loved everything about The Andersen Project. It got good reviews from some reviewers who often like stuff that I don't like, so I was wary. But within minutes of beginning, it got me and kept me and I loved it, although maybe for different reasons.
The Andersen Project is a solo play by Robert Lepage, a Quebec playwright and producer. The outside story is about a Montreal songwriter who is commissioned to work with the Paris Opera to write a children's production based on the story "The Dryad" (the inner story of this play), by Hans Christian Andersen. In his play, Robert Lepage plays Frederic, the songwriter, Rashid, a Morrocan immigrant who runs a Paris peepshow, the head of the Paris Opera (forget his name) and Hans Christian Andersen. It's pretty much linear in its storytelling, chronicling the weeks spent by Frederic in Paris. Traveling alongside this story is the storyline of The Dryad, as well as the story of Andersen's visit to the Paris World Exhibition in 1867.
The mood is grim. Everything is grey and black with occasional bursts of red. The staging is astonishing. Set pieces glide forward and back, side to side, as if propelled by some inhuman force. Then there's the screen. Parts of the play are projected onto a screen into which Lepage can jump, walk and climb. I can't tell how they did it, but it works. It's as if he's walking into a story on a page or in a movie, and jumping out again, but better than that. You have to see it to get it. There's also a puppeteer who creates the dog that is a central character, and moves trees and various other elements of the scenery. Then there are the character changes. Lepage changes hair and clothing in moments offstage (an even onstage in a couple of instances) that are so bogglingly quick, they must be magic. While it's a solo play with just one actor onstage, this production has lots of people working behind the scenes to make it happen so beautifully.
I think this play is about how being human is by definition separate and lonely. The Dryad gives up her connectedness with the world for one night in Paris as a human being. The human characters are all disconnected from the people around them. The harder they try to be part of a family or a relationship, the more they push and are pushed away from it. In the centre of it is Hans Christian Andersen, who writes beautiful tales of love and magic and longing, but lived a life without love or intimacy. It's a sad message, but it's portrayed with humour and love, in a way that lets us get closer and closer to the characters, and so becomes enlightening.
It's also about connecting through art, and establishing validity in art. Frederic travels to Paris to make something of real meaning and lasting value - beyond his usual work of writing pop music lyrics. His disappointment parallels that of Hans Christian Anderson, whose work was dismissed by many because it was written for children. The Dryad in the fairy tale has a similar experience. After a lifetime of longing she gets her wish. The conclusion is grim, but the journey of discovery is fascinating and oddly beautiful.
I recommend this play. It's at the Vancouver Playhouse through May 27.
question: would you rather be a dryad in a chestnut tree forever? or a human being in Paris for one night?
mompoet - wondering