THE NOTEBOOK/THE PROOF (Belgium) by Agota Kristof, created and performed by Gunther Lesage, Ryszard Turbiasz, Robby Cleiren and Carly Wijs. Presented by De Onderneming at the du Maurier Theatre Centre (231 Queen's Quay West). The Notebook April 1 and 3 at 8 pm, April 5 at 3 pm; The Proof April 2 and 4 at 8 pm, April 5 at 6:30 pm. $35-$50 each, both shows $60-$90. Rating: NNNNN
With the world at the start of a war that will surely bring tragedy to innocents, it's timely that World Stage opens with a double bill by Belgian theatre troupe De Onderneming (The Undertaking). But the innocents at the core of these plays are far from faultless.
Based on a trilogy of novels by Hungarian author Agota Kristof, The Notebook and The Proof begin with a mother in a war-torn country leaving her children with their grandmother in a small town for safety. The nine-year-old twin boys grow into methodical, amoral, emotionless teens who torture neighbourhood animals, blackmail the village priest and keep a diary of their lives. Edward Gorey couldn't have drawn more macabre figures.
The Proof is set decades later, as brother Lucas, who fled years before to another country, returns to find his twin, Claus. In this later more disturbed, almost Kafkaesque world, Lucas can't even find evidence that Claus -- their names are anagrams -- ever existed. Did he dream up a sibling, and is the notebook journal a fantasy?
"The second half is very much a puzzle," says performer Gunther Lesage on the phone from Antwerp, "and it's not clear what is truth and what is fiction. The plays look at the nature of identity and how one creates one's history in order to survive."
De Onderneming functions fully as a collective, choosing and adapting the texts they perform. To dramatize Kristof's novels, the four actors -- who play nearly 20 parts and can perform the show in Dutch, English or French -- spent time hammering out what to include and what to discard.
"While we might have long discussions about using or not using one sentence, it means that when we open we all stand behind the work. Taking responsibility for the whole is a big undertaking. We cannot simply hide behind our roles as actors."
With its minimalist staging and nuanced, tragicomic emotional depth, the double bill has a timeless quality.
"It's important for us," adds Lesage, "that there's a relation between our work and what's happening in the world today."