Battery Opera's WAKE!
Until June 5 at the Cultch
by Michelle Shatula and Danae Tilley
Opening night Thursday, May 27, 1999: there was not much of a crowd attending this opening night, perhaps 50 people in the audience, the majority of whom seemed to be friends and family.
The performance is a one-hour, three-performer production, centering on the destructiveness of alcoholism and the pain it inflicts. It is a dark story with some attempts at light humour. With moody overtones, the performance blends movement, song and speech -- almost entirely concentrating on the pain - -or more specifically, its varying degrees and levels of intensity of individuals.
McIntosh prefaced the performance with a short, personal, amusing monologue. He informed the audience that inspiration came to him while driving cab on a night shift He explained that the characters' perspectives were drawn from the Cyclops in Homer's "Odyssey" --cannibalistic and one-eyed. The cannibalism is defined as a destructive and painful way of living. Being "one-eyed" is depicted as having limited vision, -one perspective out and one perspective in.
When the performance begins, the stage is all black. There is a sofa in an upright position to the right of the stage. Initial focus is on a man, Big D (the father figure), slumbering on the sofa. Attention is then drawn to True and Faithful, to the left and back of the stage. They are tormenting each other with progressively stronger adjectives expressing pain, while mirroring the action of each adjective with their bodies: "flickering, burning, itching, crushing" ... until a point of numbness is reached.
Up to this point, the audience might have inferred that True and Faithful represented the inner turmoil of Big D, who is sleeping on the upturned couch. But as he awakens, the two characters become quiet and still. As the action unfolds, the audience learns that Truth and Faithful represent children, peers and animals as well as Big D's inner self.
Big D awakes to numbness. Big D is drinking because his pain is so great that he wants to forget everything. If he can anaesthetize himself, he will not remember and his numbness in any situation will become normal. It does become the norm.
Big D is central to the situation and controls the emotional abuse. His pain and the pain around him is graphically depicted. The audience is quickly carried beyond mere disquiet and is beset by a level of constant and persistent irritation that obviously reminds spectators of the pain that can be inflicted by one upon another.
If alcoholism is a nonsensical rampage within the family, then WAKE! reflects that sentiment adequately. At times, it seems that McIntosh is purposefully inflicting the same sort of nonsensical pain on the audience that has been inflicted within this family. Relief comes through humour, often in the form of slapstick and the politically incorrect, but the laughter of the audience dies quickly as more banal and cliché'd action occurs on stage. There is a moment where Big D remembers tenderness briefly. True and Faithful shrink from it in fear, not recognizing it for what it is. It is an unfamiliar experience but a telling moment for the audience.
As the characters move through gloomy scenes of reminiscences and drinking, True refers to 'A Child's Christmas in Wales', and resolves that this tale is not a happy memory at all. Faithful has a nightmare of dogs chasing him which moves to a childhood memory of the mother. But Big D refuses to remember anything, and says he was drunk. He then takes another drink. The irony is heavy.
In the end, True and Faithful chant to Big D to 'drink it all down'. He does and moves to the sofa, falls asleep, then dies, at which point, True and Faithful close a lid over the sofa, making it into a coffin. Hence, a true Wake!
McIntosh certainly accomplished his objective in presenting the pain and destruction caused by "the demon, Alcohol". The actions of each of the characters were symbolic of pain. Their bodies were tight and controlled. Each motion was demonstrative of an emotion being projected.