Review: To Wear a Heart So White by Leaky Heaven
It is a strange thing, the way programming can echo around a city. In the past year we’ve had two Measure for Measure‘s, two Odd Couples, and now- running concurrently- two edgy re-interpretations of Macbeth. Where Theatre UBC’s Ubu Roi (reviewed earlier this week) is an absurd retelling however, Leaky Heaven’s usage is not so direct.
At its core, To Wear a Heart So White is an invitation to reflect on colonialism as it pertains to the Pacific Northwest. It is an atmospheric and quasi-linear exploration that does not offer up a central commentary or conclusion. Rather, audiences must meditate on its various threads to distil their own meaning from an (occasionally quite bizarre) series of scenes and vignettes.
The story of Macbeth, or more specifically- it’s first three acts- form the most cohesive and continuous arc of the hour-long work, with alternate content woven into and around Shakespeare’s words. Before we even get to the Bard however, we arrive at the space by lighting a candle at the shrine of such explorers as Cook, Vancouver, and Strathcona. Once all are seated, there is a procession, followed by a welcoming and invocation.
This ceremony would seem to possess a two-fold meaning that touches on theatre’s ritualistic origins, as well as the role that proscribed Christianity played in colonialism.
The invocation, inspired by the various exchanges between Macbeth‘s Weird Sisters, seems to work – as the incantation sunders the room with thunder and lightning. At this point we are introduced to one of the show’s most spectacular elements: massive projections that, in this instance, shoot scenes from Shakespeare films onto four of the venue’s walls (later projections include breathtaking forests, dizzying geometric patterns, the deck of an aircraft carrier, and more). As the film runs, a voiceover describes the dissemination of Shakespeare’s work throughout the world, setting it up an analogous to colonialism.
This leads into the first actual scene from Macbeth– where he and Banquo meet the Weird Sisters on the heath (familiarity with the play is definitely an asset). This transitions into a sing-along of Jerusalem, followed by the Macbeths hatching their plot, followed by a group of birds discussing the Coquitlam Day Parade around a campfire, followed by the audience undergoing hypnosis, and so on.
These scenes are driven by a central trio of actors: Lois Anderson, Alex Ferguson, and Sean Marshall Jr. with support from a retinue of actors, singers, and children.
Presented in the round, in the Russian Hall, director Steven Hill’s staging is beautiful to behold but its stated theme is rarely immediately forthcoming. Instead, we the audience must craft our own conclusions out of the information presented.
For example: the narrative of Macbeth stops at the feast, right before things begin falling apart for the usurping king. One might interpret this as a statement that colonialism has provided all of the benefits of the Macbeths’ violent coup, but none of the downfall.
This and any interpretation however, could easily be debated (there is an almost David Lynchian quality to the work in this way). Having seen many familiar faces in the hall, I look forward to many such exchanges in the near-future.
To Wear a Heart So White runs until March 30 at the Russian Hall.