Perfect 10 for 887 at the NAC

Photos by by Erick Labbé

It is always an absolute joy to see a play written by Robert Lepage but to have the chance to see him live in person working his magic on stage is almost a religious experience. To even try to write about him and his genius seems grossly inadequate because words are hardly enough to express his talent, his insight and his theatrical wizardry and brilliance.  In fact, I should just say that 887, which is currently playing at the National Arts Centre, is a perfect 10 so see it, and leave it at that.

However, and I will be brief, 887 is a piece based on his own life growing up in Quebec in the 1960s and 1970s. We learn about life at 887 Murray Street, where he lived with his family in a 3-bedroom apartment.  His sister and brother, parents, and for a time grandmother, all shared life in an apartment building that was a cross-section of society.   His memories of his neighbours, whose actions are now presented through the lens of adult understanding with great humour, and his experiences as a child and adolescent with the backdrop of the Quiet Revolution in Quebec will touch everyone who lived through those difficult times. Lepage presents some of the politics of the day in a non-partisan way, more in a descriptive fashion and shows how things were interpreted differently, depending on where you lived.  It was quite fascinating.

That portion of 887 is more of a monologue directed at the audience. There is a second component to the play where the audience acts more as witnesses to Lepage trying to learn a difficult poem, Speak white, he agreed to recite at a poetry reading.  He delves into the trials and tribulations of memory, and enlists the help of someone who is somewhat of a rival working at Radio Canada who has fallen on difficult times pre-writing obituaries of stars, to assist with tips how to retain the difficult poem.  Lepage is witty, and wonderfully sarcastic and pulls off the conversations with the character without the man ever actually being present.  Brilliant.

Lepage learns there is a “cold cut”  already written for him and asks to see it.  It is a funny, humbling scene when he reads it.    

There are many moving moments in the play.  His reverence for his hardworking father is deeply touching and when he presents one experience he had of the FLQ Crisis as a paper carrier, chills go up and down your spine.   

Lepage staged the play with his company Ex Machina which means there is a breathtaking use of filmmaking, video art and multimedia to accompany the play.  The use of today’s technology to portray the past is incredible.  He creates a 1960s diner, his apartment building, his current apartment, a garage and other sets all from a revolving cube type of set.  His use of cameras and various visual perspectives is stunning. 

There are many complexities and layers to the play that make it the brilliant piece that it is and then on top of it all, his powerful recitation of speak white is breathtaking.

Just see it.  Lepage is nothing short of mesmerizing.