APRIL 14, 1912 by the company, directed by Allyson McMackon, with Patrick Conner, Matthew Romantini and Lucy Rupert. Presented by Theatre Rusticle in association with Harbourfront Centre at the Studio Theatre (235 Queens Quay West). Opens Friday (September 21) and runs through September 29, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees September 23 and 29 at 3 pm. $12-$17. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNNNN
Theatre Rusticle's latest show, April 14, 1912, may commemorate the 95th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, but don't expect any of its characters to shout that they're the king of the world.
The show began life nine years ago as Bride's Albatross in the San Francisco Fringe, in reaction to the then popular James Cameron film. No need for director Allyson McMackon to argue that the Titanic story resonates today.
Her striking take on the event, using the physical and textual work that defines the company, looks at it through the eyes of the ship's Marconi operators, Harold Bride and Jack Phillips. The work's third character is the embodied Ship herself. The action is set on an iceberg, another figure in the Titanic's history.
"Bride, who survived, sold his story to the New York Times," offers McMackon over a morning pre-rehearsal coffee. "His version is the most linear, while we see Phillips through the messages and codes he sent on the wireless. The Ship's throughline is the most abstract and poetic, presented mostly through movement."
All three of the performers and co-creators Patrick Conner, Matthew Romantini and Lucy Rupert have collaborated on Rusticle pieces previously, in such memorable works as And One Night It Snowed, Wish and The Stronger Variations.
The director's choice of the Marconi operators is an inspired one.
"I discovered that the whole idea of messages and communication hasn't changed much in theory since 1912. Phillips and Bride were the I.T. people of their day. In fact, Marconi himself chose Phillips, a firebrand in his mid-20s who had worked on several other ships, to head the Titanic team.
"What we get in the show is the contrast between the social messages "Gladys, having wonderful time, see you soon' and the warnings and reports of damage after the ship was gashed."
That play of opposites is also reflected in the literal fire in the belly of the Titanic, the coal power that moved her through the Atlantic, and the iceberg that caused the ship to sink. Add the importance of the antagonistic class structure aboard ship and the result is a richly allusive show, filled with dramatic tension.
"Scenic designer Lindsay Anne Black, with lighting designer Michelle Ramsay, is creating an all-white environment that demands a heightened quality of performance," says McMackon. "There's no hiding on the stage; physical gestures and relationships have to be precise and committed.
"One of the major defining elements is Lindsay's costume for the Ship. She's a showgirl, a rattled, ripped-apart Ziegfeld figure. Glamorous but armoured and broken, she dissolves into sea, sand and debris at the bottom of the ocean."
Her "incredibly slow death" is characteristic of Theatre Rusticle's non-linear, emotionally charged style.
"Lucy Rupert has to live inside the concept of the Ship, expressing a series of layered images and the various impulses she experiences at the moment. It's a wild challenge, and one that turns on a dime."