A few weeks ago I saw the Anderson Project at Arts Emerson with Cloteal and Stephen. I am so glad the three of us went to see the show together because this was the kind of piece you want to talk about after.
The Anderson Project is a one man show written and directed by the Canadian theatre artist Robert Lepage. Lepage originally starred in the show, but began collaborating with others for the tour. It tells the story of three men who have intertwining lives with the stories of Hans Christian Anderson Yves Jacques stars as a Canadian song writer who has recently ended a long term relationship due to a desire to never have children. He has been brought to Paris to write the Libretto for an opera about Hans Christian Anderson. Jacques also plays a parisian opera administrator trying to make the best deal for his company, while keeping his personal life secure. The silent, but prophetic immigrant who runs a porn cafe is also played by Jacques. Sporadically throughout the stories of the three lead men, Jacques embodies other characters from Hans Christian Anderson’s tales, including the Dryad, and at one point Anderson himself.
The opening scene is challenging to explain. It consists of a man jumping from the stage, onto what looks very much like a two dimensional white screen. He then spray paints a small mural on the white screen, that must have been produced by very accurately aimed projections. As the scene progresses the actor begins to look less human, and more like a drawing himself. This moment alone, was worth the ticket price.
Although the stage itself was of medium size, the set was monumental. The story took us to many different places, including an opera house, a forest, a french cafe, a french porn cafe, and an express train headed to Paris. The spaces were created through a number of projections, set pieces, and puppets.
My mind kept wandering to the backstage crew, and the stage managers. They scene changes were such that they had to clear the stage, or completely redress a set piece in a matter of minutes, sometimes seconds. While this piece inspired me as an artist, it also inspired me as a stage manager. It must have been as thrilling backstage, as it was in front of the audience.
One challenge of a one man shows is that multiple characters often lack the dynamic personalities found in casts with more actors. But this was not the case in The Anderson Project. Jacques was so convincing in playing different people, that Stephen, Cloteal and I argued our certainty of it actually being only one man onstage.
My favorite scene is the opera administrator telling his beloved young daughter a bed time story, “The Shadow” by H.C. Anderson. The character, like the others, has hit a rough patch in his life. His wife is sleeping with his best friend, his porn addiction has been reignited, and due to these things, he is in danger of losing custody of his daughter. He tells the story through spoken word and shadow puppetry created by his daughter’s bedside table lamp. This story, like many of Anderson’s tales for children, reveals a sadness about humanity that causes one to wonder why they were in fact written for children.
One of the great accomplishments of this show was the combination of spectacle and plot. This piece had a strong enough story that it could have been done in one of our black boxes on the third floor. Yet, the technical aspects were not just a superfluous addition. Lepage created an incredibly succinct piece of theatre.
Overall, seeing this show was an incredible experience. It was both a great piece of theatre, and an educational experience as a theatre student. Robert Lepage rarely comes to Boston, so I am so grateful I was able to see this production
There were so many exciting aspects to this production that are challenging to explain to those who were unable to experience it. And, in a way, I think that is what makes this such an exceptional work of theatre. Had this been a film it would not have had the same impact on the audience. This is the theatre of our future, and this is the theatre our generation needs to be making.