Cast of 41 ven­tures into The Ridicu­lous Dark­ness A

> BY JANET SMITH

The Georgia Straight - - Arts -

dapt­ing cel­e­brated young Ger­man writer Wol­fram Lotz’s The Ridicu­lous Dark­ness—a satire that throws Heart of Dark­ness and Apoc­a­lypse Now into a blender with cur­rent events— would prob­a­bly have been enough of a chal­lenge for Van­cou­ver’s Al­ley The­atre. The ra­dio play won the 2015 prize for Ger­man play of the year, and bring­ing its wild trip to the stage in­volves all kinds of cre­ative in­ter­pre­ta­tion. Al­ley The­atre is even in­stalling a mini zi­pline and a mov­ing boat in the An­nex space for the show.

But on top of that, the troupe is adding eight com­mu­nity groups to its six pro­fes­sional ac­tors—from the Down­town East Side Street Mar­ket So­ci­ety to the Afghan Benev­o­lent As­so­ci­a­tion of B.C., Real­wheels The­atre, and the East Van Pow­wow Crew.

It’s a project that’s turned into an epic ad­ven­ture. But when three key mem­bers of the cre­ative team— adapter and ac­tor Daniel Arnold, plus codi­rec­tors Marisa Smith and Nyla Car­pen­tier—gather in the down­town Van­cou­ver Pub­lic Li­brary atrium to dis­cuss their mas­sive un­der­tak­ing, they agree that they have now moved on from feel­ing over­whelmed.

“We’re amaz­ingly past the point of ‘Can we do this?’ ” Arnold tells the Straight. “It has turned a cor­ner into ‘How won­der­ful it is to jump across a place of not know­ing and get to the other side.’ ”

It must be noted that, as he’s say­ing this, Arnold is wear­ing a gi­ant card­board head on top of his own nog­gin, one that de­picts a smil­ing Lotz him­self. It will later be worn by var­i­ous mem­bers of the act­ing crew in a play that will of­ten switch roles and go meta. You might even say the mas­sive project has gone to Arnold’s head.

“We knew from the get-go that not only would this be in­cred­i­bly time­con­sum­ing but in­cred­i­bly un­com­fort­able,” Arnold says of cre­at­ing The Ridicu­lous Dark­ness. “But that is the show: peo­ple are go­ing into for­eign ter­ri­tory and it’s go­ing to get very un­com­fort­able and they’re even go­ing to go crazy in some ways.”

Lotz’s elab­o­rate satire of our post­colo­nial world be­gins with a So­mali man on trial for piracy, then morphs into the story of two Ger­man sol­diers sail­ing on a boat down the “Hindu Kush river” in search of a rogue colonel. Just like the sol­diers in Fran­cis Ford Cop­pola’s fa­mous film, they start to lose their grip on re­al­ity, and their stops along the wa­ter­way be­come ever more sur­real. Dur­ing the voy­age, Lotz aims his barbed ab­sur­di­ties at west­ern in­sen­si­tiv­i­ties to non­west­ern cul­tures and peo­ple from war zones.

Al­ley The­atre has put a fur­ther spin on all of this by work­ing in rep­re­sen­ta­tives of eight dif­fer­ent cul­tural and non­profit groups—41 per­form­ers in all—im­bu­ing The Ridicu­lous Dark­ness’s global per­spec­tive with dis­tinctly lo­cal rel­e­vance. “What we wanted to do was ‘by the city, for the city’,” Arnold ex­plains of Al­ley’s first foray into such a large cast.

Arnold and Smith got the idea from a mas­sive show in New York City that they saw per­formed by Broad­way ac­tors with dif­fer­ent com­mu­nity groups, from Filipino nan­nies to drag queens. They said the pro­duc­tion stuck with them for days.

Here, that means The­atre Ter­rific and Real­wheels per­form­ers liv­ing with dis­abil­i­ties be­come farm­ers and min­ers of the coltan used in cell­phones; a va­ri­ety of lo­cal march­ing bands be­come the mem­bers of a mil­i­tary camp; and Tetsu Taiko drum­mers pound out the rhythms of a “guru camp” along the jour­ney, ac­cord­ing to Arnold.

“This way it’s a Van­cou­ver in­fu­sion, try­ing to turn the cam­era lens around,” Smith ex­plains. “It’s about un­der­stand­ing lan­guage bar­ri­ers and cul­tural bar­ri­ers and how we move past that. And work­ing with com­mu­nity groups: they re­ally en­riched us. They bring their own unique flavours to the show.”

The groups have had a lot of in­put into the script and how it’s staged, she adds. “Be­cause the piece is con­tentious, that’s some­thing re­ally im­por­tant about it: we’re hon­our­ing peo­ple’s ex­pe­ri­ences. It’s im­por­tant to learn how it’s res­onat­ing with them.…that has been so im­por­tant to us: to al­ways have fresh eyes in the room, be­cause some­times you are deal­ing with such con­tentious sub­ject mat­ter.”

“We’ve all been in­flu­enced,” con­firms Car­pen­tier, a Tahltan/ Kaska pow­wow dancer and the­atre artist. “With all of the com­plex­i­ties of cul­ture we ask for un­der­stand­ing of each other. In the end we can sim­ply un­der­stand each other if we take the time to ask the ques­tions and lis­ten.”

With that in mind, talk­backs with each of the com­mu­nity and cul­tural groups fol­low The Ridicu­lous Dark­ness; there are also work­shops and other events.

The mas­sive process of stag­ing the play has trans­formed its par­tic­i­pants, and its cre­ators hope it might get au­di­ences to ques­tion their own bi­ases and pre­con­cep­tions, too. “Through work­ing with the Down­town East­side groups and of­fer­ing these sto­ries and ideas, and just hang­ing out and get­ting to know them—for me it’s just con­firmed you need to treat peo­ple as equals, as hu­man be­ings,” re­flects Car­pen­tier. “You start think­ing of ways to sup­port peo­ple, ver­sus shut­ting them down.”

The Ridicu­lous Dark­ness, Apoc­a­lypse Now, Heart of Dark­ness,

In to­gether 41 play­ers take the stage for a show that mashes and world events. Wendy D photo.

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