Thursday, 2 October 2008

Polygraph (1987)

‘Le Polygraphe’ Synopsis

‘Le Polygraphe’ was first performed in 1987 and tells the story of a murder in Quebec City, involving only three characters, two male and one female. “One character is suspected in the killing, another dissected the body, and yet another is auditioning for the role of the dead woman in a filmed dramatization of the tragedy.”

It is believed to be based upon the real murder investigation of a friend of Robert Lepage, in which he was a suspect.

Throughout the piece Lepage explores the idea of truth and in particular the perception of film as a lie. An example of this is when the character Francois takes a ‘polygraph test’ (or lie detector test). He knows himself to be innocent in the murder, but when he is not told the results of the test, doubt starts to take over, and he begins to wonder if he really is guilty. This self-doubt is then heightened when he discovers a film is being made about the investigation, and so Lepage uses this to question how something we know to be fictional can have the ability to change our perceptions of reality.

Review of ‘Le Polygraphe’ Robert Lepage

“So who was the murderer?" asked one puzzled woman on leaving this revival of Robert Lepage's teasing 1987 metaphysical detective story. Based on a real-life case - the unsolved rape and murder of a young actress in Quebec City in 1980, for which Lepage himself was briefly the chief suspect - the question isn't who did it, or why they did it, but how it was done.

Like an autopsy discovering hidden secrets, these stunning 90 minutes peel away layer upon layer of theatrical convention, drawing on the imagery of film noir, the splatter movie, Hamlet and the Berlin wall to tell a story of love, guilt, life, death, and the way we wall ourselves up and close our minds to the obvious. This is an evening of skeletons that sit up, ghosts that walk, bricks that seep blood, and the darker corners of the human mind.

As with much of Lepage's work, a lot of it is done with mirrors. You keep wishing you could hit a rewind button to check that you really did see what you thought you saw. The form of the piece closely reflects its subject: the elusiveness of truth; the fact that it is always multi-layered and never absolute. Played against, above and around a vast solid wall, like the backdrop of a cheap film set, the piece creates a shadowy, slightly sinister urban landscape in which the apparently unconnected lives of the three protagonists collide and intertwine.

François, a young waiter who likes violent sexual games, is the neighbour of Lucie, an actress cast in a movie as a murder victim. Only towards the end of the shoot does she discover that she is playing the woman whom François was suspected of killing some years previously, and that her new lover, Christof, was the pathologist on the case.

Giles Croft's production has the sleight of hand to match Lepage's text, and if the evening never warms up emotionally, the sense of dislocation and distance has its own benefits, casting the audience as camera, voyeur and possibly even murderer.

*Abby/Alisdair: This is good but what is the source for this review? It would be useful to know the link, the journalist's name and the date it was published...* - Liam

The New York Times
'Metaphysics and Crime'
Published: October 27, 1990

In the opening sequences of "Polygraph," a play that is billed by its creators as a "metaphysical detective story," many striking but seemingly unrelated images are introduced onto the stage. A skeleton lies in front of a low brick wall behind which a criminologist (Pierre Auger) engages in an overlapping conversation with a waiter (Marc Beland). Their monologues merge into a dialogue that compares the flow of blood to the human heart to the traffic routes in and out of East Berlin. Moments later, an actress (Marie Brassard) auditioning for a movie, confesses that her goal is to play the title role in "Hamlet." The waiter reappears in a restaurant frantically clearing tables and sniffing cocaine and later in a bar practicing bondage and flagellation.

Over the next 90 minutes, the criminologist, the actress and the waiter are revealed to be enmeshed in a triangle. The actress has been chosen to play the lead role in a movie depicting the unsolved murder of a woman in Montreal several years earlier. It emerges that the waiter, who lives in an apartment on the other side of a wall from the actress, was originally suspected of the crime. It also emerges that the polygraph test that helped clear him of suspicion was administered by the criminologist, who in an attempt to trick him had lied to him about the results. The criminologist, who learned his techniques of interrogation in East Berlin, becomes romantically involved with the actress, who in turn has an affair with the waiter.

Handsomely staged by the French-Canadian company Le Theatre Repere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, "Polygraph" is a fascinating attempt to make a play that has the form and texture of a film. The script, written by Miss Brassard and the experimental director Robert Lepage, divides the drama into 20 short "sequences" in which theatrical equivalents are found for film-making techniques like dissolves, crosscutting, montage, flashbacks, dream sequences and slow-motion action.

If Mr. Lepage is hardly the first director to attempt a synthesis of the vocabularies of film and theater, his particular blend shows an exceptional visual flair, rhythmic energy and deftness in the manipulation of symbols. As Mr. Lepage demonstrated in his six-hour theater work, "The Dragons' Trilogy," he also has a special talent for finding symbols that at first seem arbitrary but that through intensive reworking assume an epic richness and significance. In "Polygraph," the most prominent symbol is the wall, which is the wall between the two apartments, the Berlin wall, the barriers between men and women, and finally an obstacle to the truth.

The production also skillfully integrates ritualistic athletic movement into the drama. Scenes in which the three actors climb over, slide down and writhe against the wall in various states of terror and erotic engagement have a compelling visceral drive. The three actors -- but especially Miss Brassard -- move from conventional narrative into expressionistic pantomime and back with a seamless sense of dramatic flow.

It is a measure of the success of "Polygraph" that the work it recalls the most strongly is not a play but Michelangelo Antonioni's mystery film "Blow Up," which was set in swinging London in the late 1960's. If "Polygraph," with its expressionistic use of slide patterns, shadow and computerized music, suggests a futuristic film noir, it brings the same obsessed fascination to a particular crime. As in "Blow Up," the more one learns of what might have taken place, the deeper the mystery becomes.

Written by Marie Brassard and Robert Lepage; directed by Mr. Lepage; music, Pierre Brousseau and Yves Chamberland; set design, Mr. Lepage; props manager, Steve Lucas; translation, Gyllian Raby; lighting design, Eric Fauque and Mr. Lepage; assistant set designer, Jean Hazel; stage manager, Mr. Fauque; slides, Dave Lepage. Music performed live by Mr. Brousseau. Le Theatre Repere presented by the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Harvey Lichtenstein, president and executive producer. At Lepercq Space, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn.

Posted by Abby Jones and Alisdair Hinton

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