Those who have never attended a Robert Lepage play might wonder what makes his creations so “mesmerizing” and “hypnotizing”. After years of creating consistently successful shows it would be fair to assume M. Lepage is doing something phenomenally well.
This week, Canadian Stage is bringing back Needles and Opium to the Bluma Appel Theatre for a short 10-show engagement. The play was first presented in 1991 and was re-shaped in 2013 to reflect the passing of thirty some-odd years.
The show features Marc Labrèche who took over Robert Lepage’s role on it’s initial run in 1991 and Wellesley Robertson III who joined the show during its re-imagining in 2013.
Robertson was asked to join Needles and Opium by Lepage as an acrobatic addition to the play. Through intensive exploration and development, and with Robert Lepage’s distinct vision, Robertson developed a strong bond with the unusual set. The half-cube structure sits on a motorized platform and almost becomes a third character in the play. Having performed this show over 100 times the relation between set and actor has become a delicate dance, bridging reality and fantasy.
The enthusiasm for Lepage’s creations, however, does not simply stem from the use of acrobatics and movement. There’s something more.
Marc Labrèche explained that the beauty of Robert Lepage’s work stems from his ability to demonstrate the struggles of the human experience without falling into the trap of self-pity. Needles and Opium is a play that addresses substance abuse but it is in no way a knock-you-over-the-head-with-a-message show. That, he says, is the difference. “He trusts his audience’s intelligence, their instinct, and by giving them room to interpret what they are seeing through their eyes and their souls they are able to come out feeling like they have participated in the show as well.”
According to Labrèche, Robert Lepage has found his signature style by bridging the gap between the dramatic and the intimate, the visual and the poetic. Most importantly he gifts his characters with derision, detachment and cynicism; tools all humans must occasionally access in order to overcome obstacles with a smile.
Needles and Opium is on a limited run at the Bluma Appel Theatre for May 1st to the 10th. Tickets are available through canadianstage.ca.