Written by Michael Spence. Conceived and directed by Jacquie P.A. Thomas. At Theatre Passe Muraille. Runs until November 18.
Four people are affected by a picture of an eight-year-old girl in a war-torn country in Theatre Gargantua’s latest show, Reflector. There’s the hardened photographer (Michael Spence), a woman profoundly affected by the image (Louisa Zhu), a woman burdened with a perfect memory (Michelle Polak), and the therapist who deals with their traumas (Abraham Asto).
The multi-disciplinary company, celebrating their twenty-fifth season, leans heavily on physical theatre. The four actors—all playing various roles, each with distinction—run, tumble, roll, jump, and are caught in mid-air by their castmates. The activity suggests the frenzy and fear of any war-torn country.
Jacquie P.A. Thomas conceived of and directed this muscular production and, as usual for the company, Spence wrote it. Integrating rap, hip-hop, prose, and poetry, the dialogue is breathtaking. When Spence, as the photographer, is telling us how he set up the shot of the little girl, there is a quiet urgency in his voice. In that moment, the audience was silent, leaning in to listen. No photograph accompanies the description, and none is needed.
Laird Macdonald’s projections of places in conflict flash on screens behind the action, amplified by Thomas Ryder Payne’s percussive soundscape of bombs and gunfire. At the end of the show, we are left with the real-life, heart-wrenching photographs that have stunned us over the years: a naked girl running from a napalm strike, a Vietnamese man with a gun to his head just before he is shot, three-year-old Alan Kurdi lying dead on a beach.
A single photograph has power. It can stop us in our tracks. This is what Reflector explores, and it does so beautifully.
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