Review: Cabal Theatre explores the deviant nocturnal in the immersive “La Somnambule”


A confidential venue…. Baron Felix Volkbein’s private Facebook messaging providing tie-in identification and personalized pre-show communication… seldom does such mystery and intrigue precede an audience member’s physical passage into the theatre. The performance, rather, has already begun, and new thresholds of anticipation are progressively reached with each framed exchange. Even in this post-run review of a sold out production, I am left bedazzled by its craftsmanship – and genius marketing.

(As an aside, reviewing a Cabal Theatre piece is always rather akin to viewing it: maddening in contemplation, but wildly fulfilling.)

Expectations are thus mighty as one ascends the stairs into the realms of “La Somnambule” – the latest creation piece conceived by performance ensemble Cabal Theatre. Of burgeoning repute and respect for expanding the contemporary movement in Montreal English language theatre with boldly provocative and boundary-pushing works (namely, the multi META-winning “Tragic Queens” and “Mary Stuart”), Cabal again presents the prospect of a thrillingly unique performative aesthetic in its commitment to avant-garde, post-dramatic theatre. The singular experience – as intellectually thrilling as it is viscerally stimulating – proves as deviant, boundless, and cabalistic as eventide itself.

Aptly christened as an interdisciplinary theatrical event fusing text, dance, media, puppetry, interactive visuals, and object performance, “La Somnambule” is an immersive, site-responsive piece that explores and reflects on the queerness of the night. Groups of participants enter the undisclosed space (ultimately revealed upon ticket reservation) in three nightly “cycles” – each check-in time beginning at 7pm, 8pm and 9pm, respectively – when they are then invited to independently roam from room to room until a congregation at the final hour. Stories and interactions unfold simultaneously, and audiences freely follow cast members as they wish. Perambulating through the shadows of a suspenseful and sensual environment, they intimately witness character interplay and engage with scenic elements to piece together narrative details of an alternative dream world, one which succeeds in engulfing you with its haunting beauty and intricacy in design. One is fully present and led through the experience by instinct.

Image courtesy of Cabal Theatre

Devised and created by all Cabal Theatre collaborating artists and finely honed by award-winning playwrights Rhiannon Collett and Joseph Shragge, “La Somnambule” is inspired by Djuna Barnes’ landmark 1936 novel “Nightwood” – one of the earliest literary masterworks to portray explicit homosexuality between women. With the direction of Anthony Kennedy and dramaturgy of Kyle Croutch, this theatrical variant of the modernist classic captures the complexity and poeticism of its source material, particularly its imagistic text. Prime acting (Jillian Harris, Tyson Houseman, Robert Leveroos, Gabe Maharjan, Julia Milz, Alex Petrachuk, Meagan Schroeder, and Gabriel Schultz) bring a labyrinthine script and Barnes’ exiled personages to life as integrated audiovisual design elements forge a mesmeric fictional universe (Robert Leveroos’ sets, Sophie El-Assaad’s costumes, Jon Cleveland’s lighting, Devon Bate’s sound, Kate Stockburger’s props, Julia Milz’s video design, and Tyson Houseman’s and Jillian Harris’ puppet design are all of notable mention).

In its ongoing mandate to craft norm-defying works, Cabal here emerges to further challenge conventional relationships between artist, architecture, and audience. Lines are blurred as the lost and perambulating (characters and patrons alike) converge and connect in what is an intensely sensorial experience, greatly served by the ensemble’s notorious physical performance style. The piece is as claustrophobic as it is expansive and disorienting as it is enlightening – but it is never uncomfortably invasive, effectively striking the delicate balance between the creative freedom of its participants and structured, chronological storytelling. As with Barnes’ groundbreaking text, the comprehension of “La Somnambule” comes from the feeling of it as opposed to literal interpretation.

It’s an altogether impressive and intriguing production; theatre of this form and calibre is a rarity in Montreal.

Bringing to the fore themes of sexuality and gender, moral decadence, societal constraints, and the constitution of identity, “La Somnambule” is indeed a voice for the unrepresented, exploring the trials of the “nocturnal others” who fail to enter a symbolic. Night – the realm of the primal, of the sexual, of the animal – functions as a metaphor for the latent or concealed vices lurking beneath the familiarity of day. At its heart, though, is a shared humanity – one defined by recklessness and defiance in the face of love and suffering.

I am consumed by the necessity to re-experience it.

Cabal Theatre presents the World Premiere of “La Somnambule”
October 18th – 28th, 2018

Writers | Rhiannon Collett & Joseph Shragge
Director | Anthony Kennedy
Dramaturg | Kyle Croutch
Set designer | Robert Leveroos
Costume designer | Sophie El-Assaad
Costume assistants | Marci Babineau, Jennifer Baycroft, Marika Porlier
Lighting designer | Jon Cleveland
Sound designer | Devon Bate
Guest composer | Jeremy Dutcher
Puppet design | Tyson Houseman, Jillian Harris
Video designer | Julia Milz
Head of props | Kate Stockburger
Production manager & stage manager | Trevor Barrette
Assistant stage manager | Kate Stockburger
Production assistant | Darragh Mondoux
Front of house & box office manager | Roxane Loumède
Graphic design | Dan Buller
Logo design | Heath Cairns
Performers | Jillian Harris, Tyson Houseman, Robert Leveroos, Gabe Maharjan, Julia Milz, Alex Petrachuk, Meagan Schroeder & Gabriel Schultz

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