AALST conceived and directed by Pol Heyvaert (Victoria). At Premiere Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West). To March 17. $17.50-$25. 416-973-4000. See Continuing in theatre listings. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Think that reality TV is the height of hypnotic thrills and chills? Forget Canadian Idol and Survivor; instead, try Aalst, a piece by Belgian theatre company Victoria. They call it faction theatre, a blend of fact and fiction.
The piece is based on the trial of a couple who checked into a hotel during Carnival season and killed their children, smothering their infant daughter and stabbing their seven-year-old son in the back with scissors.
That kind of simple declarative statement is just how Kurt and Kathy (Lies Pauwels and Jeroen Perceval) explain their actions in the hour-long piece, filled with repetition of details and questions by an anonymous, neutral voice who wants to know the whys and hows of the deed.
What's key here is the matter-of-fact simpleness of the pair's responses, the constant refrains of "I don't know" and "I can't remember." There's as much an indictment of the social system that shaped the two as a condemnation of the murders. Both parents had been abused physically and mentally - and Kurt similarly mistreated his partner Kathy - and offer no surprising insights into the rationale for the murders.
Pauwels and Perceval are splendidly detailed in their ordinariness, no mean feat. She creates a dead-voiced, glassy-eyed Kathy who betrays no emotion in her face or voice until near the end; he characterizes Kurt with little nervous bursts of energy. They're in debt, milk the social system for all they can (they have five stereos, not paid for) and keep their home lightless.
Based on trial transcripts documentaries and some new text by director Pol Heyvaert and writer Dimitri Verhulst, the piece both fascinates and repulses. Despite some moments of grim, grotesque humour, it's hard not to twitch uncomfortably when detail is piled on detail.
The whole piece is nearly flawless, beautifully contrasting the low-key performances and the high-key material. But then, in the last few minutes, the creators throw in a major twist that changes how we view the pair. Though the ending is wrenching in a different way than you'd expect, it doesn't detract from the fine work of the actors and the mesmerizing hold they have over the viewers. I've rarely heard such quiet in an audience.