Getting to Tarragon Theatre’s Extraspace 20 minutes before the start of The Double, would have been early for most shows in Toronto. But all the good seats were gone, and so we were forced to sit near the back. I’m late to this party. I missed TheatreRun’s production of The Double last year. And today an admiring crowd beat us to the good seats.
Whatever else one says about The Double first and foremost, this is a hysterically funny show, powered by elegant performances. When they told us at the talkback that for high-school kids the show becomes complete pandemonium, I totally got it, speaking as someone who struggled to make sure my laughter didn’t cover any witty lines. I came out of the theatre as high as a kite, wondering what I might have felt in the front row, where the wackiness would have been right in my face.
Based on Dostoevsky’s short story, The Double is a one of a kind experience, a whimsical adaptation that restores my faith in the theatre and its magic.
Created & performed by Adam Paolozza, Arif Mirabdolbaghi & Viktor Lukawski, directed by Paolozza with original music by Mirabdolbaghi, this is a self-reflexively theatrical creation. Theatre nerds will feel like they’ve died & gone to heaven with this show, a virtual compendium of the many ways to make you laugh & create illusions, and no wonder considering the delightful nerdiness of the creators. Sometimes it’s verbal, sometimes it’s vocal, sometimes it’s visual, sometimes it’s physical, and always it’s delicately balanced on the edge between a kind of psychological truth & existential horror. Dostoevsky anticipates the psychiatric breakthroughs to come in Freud & Jung, although this story (supposedly a failure in the lifetime of the writer) is so far ahead of its time as to seem a foretaste of Woody Allen or perhaps the Marx Brothers, especially via the vaudevillian enchantment of this trio.
Mirabdolbaghi’s bass acts as self-effacing back-up to the onstage shenanigans, when he isn’t himself in the spotlight as the narrator. In the talk-back session Mirabdolbaghi spoke of a parallel he saw, between the curious awkwardness that a string bass player might feel, finding himself suddenly all alone onstage–divorced from his usual role in support of the melodic instruments such as violin or cello—and the character of Golyadkin. It’s one of several happy accidents.
Paolozza is Golyadkin, the man who may or may not have a double, although it is certain that Paolozza delineates two very distinct characters & voices in the same body. We’re unable to tell for sure whether he’s delusional, even in those moments when he and his double share the stage. We’re sometimes in a realm of shadows or vaudeville silliness, sometimes watching a radio-play with overdone foley sounds created by hands and voices.
Lukawski –like Paolozza a graduate of Ecole Jacques Lecoq—plays everyone. I mean, yes he plays everyone else, but at times, when Paolozza is trying to be two people, Lukawski even jumps in to momentarily be Golyadkin: one or the other version.
I can’t help thinking about narrative devices in adaptations, as I’m currently watching a stylish BBC serial of Dickens, using expensive costumes, horses, and authentic buildings. When story-telling makes the jump to the stage, one has several possible choices, combinations of enactment & mediation, depending on what sort of reality one seeks to create and how much money one has at one’s disposal. In this instance, we’re watching the impossible enacted not through expensive mise-en-scène, but at low cost with the aid of our imaginations, invoked through a clever use of theatrical devices and aided by a wittily ironic narrator.
Less is more, although it helps to have physically gifted performers.
There’s a segment near the end of The Double that reminded me of a sequence right at the beginning of Tom Stoppard’s Jumpers. Stoppard’s heroine suffers a kind of cultural overload, free-associating clumsily through a series of songs to do with the moon. I was reminded partly because I had the unfortunate task of playing forensic music-director, trying to re-construct something coherent from a text resembling a crime scene (as we try to put together how to make it work as it did in that first production). In The Double, we don’t begin as Stoppard did, in the place of incoherence and find our way towards a kind of logic; instead we begin in a place of relative order and move deeper into the realm of the subconscious. We watch a stand-up comedy routine that seemed to be brain-stormed around the idea of someone who thinks they have a double. There were famous Rat Pack songs, and “Who are You” from The Who. Sorry, I was too busy laughing to remember the song names! Yes these are anachronistic, like the reference in the first minute of the show to Gordon Lightfoot, which is to say, they’re part and parcel of a witty & theatrical approach to story-telling, not a BBC costume drama dripping authenticity.
The text? As a creation from a collective, it’s marvellously coherent now, but I have to wonder how it could possibly be documented, and whether anyone in future will be able to capture the quicksilver magic of this perfect trio, exquisitely balanced. What we saw was astonishing, leading me to wonder how it would be recorded for posterity, and whether the musical component would be scored with the text—as though it were a musical or melodrama—or simply implicit in a few stage directions.
As I said, I’m late to the party. Toronto’s theatre crowd know about this show, because they were all there before me, grabbing all the good seats. But you can still see the brilliance of the trio who present The Double if you’re quick, as this amazing show runs until November 24th (click photo for more information).