In Robert Lepage and Marie Brassard’s Polygraph, an unsolved murder resurfaces in 1989 Quebec City, setting three seemingly unrelated lives on a collision course with the truth.
Inspired by personal tragedy following the 1980 murder of Lepage’s friend, where he was briefly suspected of the crime, the play centres around an actress, her criminologist boyfriend and a sado-masochist neighbour. Acclaimed theatre company OpticNerve Performance Group bring this play noir to the stage under the watchful eye of Tanya Gerstle, who was immediately drawn to directing this story.
TG: I am always looking for a way to use theatre’s potential to represent consciousness – memories, feelings and sensations – in expressionistic form. I want an audience to experience what drives a character to act by visually fusing reality and personal perception. Polygraph lives somewhere in the liminal space between the world we inhabit and the one we experience.
While the passion was present from the beginning, the task of putting this story on was not a simple one.
TG: Taking this script, complete with descriptions of the realised production, which was design focused and technologically complex, and transforming it through our actor-centred process, was a daunting task. So as always we began with an empty space, limitation of means and three performers (Grant Cartwright, Lachlan Woods and Emily Thomas) who are not only fine interpretive actors but also extraordinary physical composers. Creating a performance language for Polygraph’s constantly shifting political and personal perspectives was another challenge. What emerged was a brutal yet at times tender, physical ‘world’ unearthed by the imaginative collision each actor had with his or her characters’ ‘inner life’ and their public persona.
OpticNerve Performance Group have come to be known for their Pulse approach where actors go through a process of improvisation where the hidden story or characterisation is gradually noticed.
TG: Pulse originated as a technique for actors to create ensemble performance improvisation, where every moment of the improvisation is aesthetically and formalistically resonant. This involves the composition in space, relationship to all the players, and the revelation of meaning through associative imagery. Within the rehearsal process Pulse is used as a tool to find a hidden physical language beneath the text and to weave that into the literal, realistic dramatic form. This type of rehearsal varies from conventional processes in that the first three weeks of the process we use improvisation to investigate and discover the play’s central ideas, as well as the characters’ relationships and their journeys.
TG: The staging of the piece is left to the final week of rehearsal and this is where the work is threaded together with layers of sound and light. We literally paint the piece with light and sonically design the aural impact of the story. We will be engaged in a complex collaborative task, weaving each moment of the narrative with language, emotion, physical action, light and sound in the attempt to create a cohesive rhythm that will reveal the performance language we have discovered. It is always a difficult yet pleasurable part of the process.
While the story in Polygraph is no doubt a gripping one, Gerstle hopes that audiences will be just as engrossed with what unravels on stage.
TG: As a theatrical artist, I attempt to reveal multiple perspectives through a singular narrative. I hope the audience will be transfixed, suspended and moved in the watching experience, and feel released when they are thrown back into the world. I want an audience to have a visceral experience by burning images into their retinas.
Read more about Polygraph here.