LENZ created by Stephen O'Connell, Lucy Simic, Sabrina Usher and Richard Windeyer, with O'Connell and Usher. Presented by Bluemouth Inc. at the Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen West). Opens Wednesday (May 23) and runs to June 1, Wednesday-Friday (except May 25) 8 pm. $10 (seating very limited). 416-588-5827. Rating: NNNNN
what's up with hotels and theatre? Over at Theatre Passe Muraille, Alex Poch-Goldin's This Hotel uses a hotel as a metaphor for a man's subconscious. A little further west, a young performance art troupe called Bluemouth Inc. are taking the hotel metaphor a floor higher, actually setting their newest work, Lenz, in various rooms of the Gladstone Hotel.
"It's a real experience walking through the building," says Sabrina Usher, one fourth of the multidisciplinary outfit known for their site-specific work. "It has that once-was-grand feel. The stairs creak. The banisters have this old detailing. And the outside noise is constantly changing."
We're sitting in a spacious, second-floor, mildly dilapidated room -- there are tiny mushrooms growing in a corner -- overlooking Queen West. As if on cue, a police car wails by as Usher mouths the words "outside noise."
A large bed dominates the room, and the four members of the company -- which originated in Montreal but is now based in Toronto -- are sitting on or around it. Not your typical rehearsal space, this.
Apparently, a small, hunched-over, elfin woman lives on the same floor and occasionally wanders by as they're working. I keep looking behind me, expecting her to appear at my side like a figure from The Shining.
The show, loosely inspired by Georg Buchner's play about the descent into madness of a young playwright, takes place in three rooms at the Gladstone, each on a different floor. While there's no straight narrative, stories emerge -- one about a woman searching for her brother who lives on the street, another about a man obsessed with matricide. There's also a film sequence. Mental illness is the common link.
"It's not about schizophrenia," says Stephen O'Connell, who plays the character of Lenz in the show. "On some level, it's using mental illness to look at the structures and limits of morality in society."
I take a look at the four members of the collective. They're attractive, educated, healthy-looking, solidly middle class. Are they slumming for their art? Exploiting the neighbourhood for their own artistic ends?
"That's a totally valid fear, but we're trying to take things to a deeper level," says O'Connell, who played the sole character in the troupe's highly atmospheric local debut last winter, American Standard, performed at College watering hole Barcode.
"The show embraces people we tend to ignore. We're trying to examine other ways of seeing the world."
And, obviously, other ways of seeing theatre.
No two people who attend Lenz will experience the same show. It's set in three rooms, with a maximum audience capacity of 30, 10 people in each room at any given time. Audience members will get a ticket with three room numbers on it, and they'll have to seek out the rooms themselves -- no helpful arrows to guide them. Couples will be split up. And each performance will be slightly different.
"We don't want to freak people out," laughs O'Connell. "We just want to give people different experiences."
"We want people to split up and join each other after the show and go, "What do you think?'" says troupe member Lucy Simic. This summer, they're remounting their piece Ceasefire -- about Bosnia, and by extension Quebec separatism -- for SummerWorks. Beyond that, they're not sure. At the Barcode show last winter, someone asked O'Connell what was next. A bigger audience? Larger venue?
"I was taken aback by the idea that everything was a means to an end," says O'Connell. "For me, to get a hundred people to come out on a snowy night to a bar on College was pretty cool. You can't get much better than that. With Lenz, 30 people each night will move around a hotel and see neat stuff. How often do we get experiences like that in our lives?"