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May 23, 2011 | by  | in Theatre |
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Go See The Elephant

Yvonne Quinn sat in my Facebook friend request purgatory for almost a year before I finally “not now-ed” her (nice euphemism). I have a steady stream of people who sit in this purgatory because I don’t like the idea of just rejecting a person who has politely put forward an offer to be mates, but at the same time I am not too keen on social media friendships with strangers. I finally met Yvonne Friday night at Downstage.

You see, Yvonne exists as a character in the play Death and the Dreamlife of Elephants. Her Facebook existence isn’t just part of a typical theatrical marketing tool, but her cyber-selfhood is another way Death and the Dreamlife is trying to push theatrical reality past the playhouse to permeate the outside world. Clever.

Creating an “imaginative space” is where Death and the Dreamlife excels. The show superbly uses transparency: both in the form of layered sliding sheer doors and over-sized sheets of plastic to create settings, allowing for fantastically fluid shifts of time and place. Light and dark are used to make stunning shadow play, evocative of the film noir/dreamlike aesthetic of the piece. Transparency is of course also thematically linked to the world of the play as so much of it is about clarity and looking for something we may or may be able to see and recognize.

Vaughan Slinn plays Julian Gallo, an everyman who is searching for a particular elephant that belonged to his deceased mother’s collection, his hunt representative of exploring life’s bigger questions. Sara Allen, Aaron Cortesi, Hariette Cowan, Paul Waggott, Uther Dean and Hannah Banks are the other creators of the piece who play a myriad of major and minor characters that intersect with Julian’s journey. Both the individual performances and the ensemble work in Death and the Dreamlife are absolutely excellent.

Like so many devised pieces, however, Death and the Dreamlife lacks cohesion. It has a beginning, a muddy middle and not much of an ending. At two hours long, the second half really drags. Characters disappear with no explanation, plot threads float and the piece just sort of settles instead of rising. Given that this show was deservedly handed a year of development, I wonder how much the company challenged themselves with the narrative?

Still, I am ‘friending’ the show. For beautiful, integrated design, tight direction, amazing performances of memorable characters, go see Death and the Dreamlife of Elephants.

Death and the Dreamlife of Elephants

By A Slightly Isolated Dog

13 May – 04 June at Downstage

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