It is believed that, after death, a spirit is incapable of passing into the afterlife if it has unfinished business that it hasn’t dealt with yet. This in-between place is often believed to be called “limbo”.
Having been inspired while working with The Labyrinth Theatre Company in New York, Jay Cutler writes, directs, and ultimately stars in the world premiere of “Shelter in Shadows” an interesting take on what this realm between life and death might be like. This piece not only speaks but communicates through controlled, choreographed movements. It explores love, acceptance, and the controversial things that may bind us to the physical realm.
I think we can all admit that letting go or moving on is hard – whether it may be a relationship that is no longer healthy, a loved one who has passed on, or finding a way to accept the things we dislike about ourselves. Sometimes people go through their entire lives holding deep secrets inside them that they’re incapable of expressing.
Perhaps they would think differently if they were in the same position as our two main characters, Cray and Malo. For them, passing on to the afterlife becomes impossible if they can’t figure out what it is that’s keeping them in limbo. As the two explore what they can recall of their past existences, how they came to meet, and why they were brought together, they act as pioneers through their own subconscious.
The play takes you right into the midst of the action with little time to catch up. The text is vague, and upon entering on stage both characters are confused and in heightened states of emotion. You’re left piecing together the abstract clues that Cray and Malo leave as they discuss the reason why they were recently separated and how they came to be reunited in a dark and eerie church – which Cray chose to flee to after attending his ex-wife’s funeral, with Malo as his guest. The setting, which is made even creepier by mics that are hooked up to the stage to create an eerie echoing effect, looks like a dreamscape, and reminds you that the two, without the company of the other, would be completely and utterly alone. Suddenly, separation seems a whole lot scarier.
The lack of light and black box stage give the illusion that this church has no walls and no boundaries; it could go on forever. The remaining light is utilized in a very creative way; it’s the sole indicator that time is passing. Our two journeymen themselves, however, seem to be ageless; although both have white hair, their faces are youthful. Both wear a neutral white button down shirt and black pants – possibly representative of what their past existences and jobs might have been like when they still walked among the living.
The timelessness of the play is refreshing, considering we live in a society that is so hooked on deadlines and schedules. Then again, it must be torture not having time at all to ground you to something linear.
Although the technical elements of the play were simple, I appreciated their symbolism and the atmosphere that they created. It made the difficulty to understand where the characters were coming from and the message that they were trying to convey a little less hard to grasp. (To further explain: instead of losing interest because I didn’t necessarily follow the story the entire time, I was still interested by the aesthetic appeal of the play). The crisp clarity of both performer’s voices was also part of the reason I stayed hooked throughout.
At the end of it all, I had to spend a lot of time connecting small details and unraveling loose ends. The message of the play, and even the fact that it was set in limb – or an “astral plane” as Malo calls it at one point – feels like one that I had encountered before in stories such as “The Lovely Bones”, so I didn’t find myself sympathizing with the characters perhaps as much as I wish I could have. Nevertheless, it’s not the message itself that makes the play worth seeing, but all the other elements that add individuality and atmosphere to the piece. “Shelter in Shadows” is a show that’s worth more than the sum of its parts.
Cutler Arts presents “Shelter in Shadows”
When: June 9 – 18, 2017
Where: Montreal Improv Espace B, 3713 Saint-Laurent, #202
Duration: 40 minutes
Tickets: www.montrealfringe.ca | 514.849.FEST (3378)
Official Media Partner of the 2017 St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival