SUMMERWORKS: The Epic of Gilgamesh (up until the part when Enkidu dies), Review by Katherine Sanders

The Epic of Gilgamesh (up until the part when Enkidu dies)

Written by Erin Shields

Directed by Gideon Arthurs

Presented by Groundwater Productions

Featuring Frank Cox-O'Connell, Carlos Gonzalez-Vio, Ieva Lucs, Richard Lee, Lindsey Clark, and Lisa Karen Cox

Presented at Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace


Thursday August 13 6:30pm
Saturday August 15 12:30pm
Sunday August 16 8:30pm

I know nothing about the story of Gilgamesh. It’s one of those pieces of literature like Beowulf that I recognize as being important, but have never taken the time to read myself. So I had no idea what to expect from this show, except for being somewhat familiar with the work of Erin Shields, Gideon Arthurs, and Frank Cox-O’Connell. I have to say that I was part of a privileged audience that saw this show under the coolest circumstances possible. Waiting to enter the theatre in a line-up that wrapped around the corner of the Theatre Passe Muraille building, while to the south the last of the days light was filling the sky. To the north, as we rounded the corner and entered the theatre, was the most ominous black cloud I’ve ever seen. We got inside just before the rain came, and then were treated to a performance of this play as it was meant to be seen – with a raging thunderstorm pounding the ceiling above us. Some of Gilgamesh’s lines were underscored by massive thunder-cracks. It was intense.

Thankfully, this is a production that holds its own against a raging storm. The design is simple, effective eye candy. The representation of the demon Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven are two examples where the designers (especially Lindsay Anne Black on costumes and set) did a lot with a little. The sound design, (this night collaborating with the sound of rain and thunder), was effective and unobtrusive. The lighting also made use of some basic but on-target techniques, such as headlamps for the chorus.

It’s appropriate that this show was presented at Theatre Passe Muraille, the birthplace of Toronto’s collective creation movement in the 70’s. The style of this piece very much reminded me of those times, even though I didn’t live through them. Although this is not a collective creation, the script is skillfully crafted by Erin Shields to resemble a play of the people, by the people, for the people. The use of Greek-style chorus and the eclectic updates in vocabulary and cultural references (at one point the characters share a bucket of KFC), combine to make this an earthy post-modern adaptation of an ancient text. A related side note: Paul Thompson, the founder of TPM, was in the audience the night I saw it, and I happened to notice him guffaw heartily at the line, “The Bull of Heaven is not a toy!”

Gideon Arthurs’ attentive direction keeps the action constantly roving around the space, and the pace urging forwards like a heartbeat. The performances are all of the calibre you would expect from such accomplished actors, whose commitment and energy drive the piece forward relentlessly towards its inevitable conclusion. The title spoiler, “(up until the part when Enkidu dies)” provides a framework for the audience to grasp the significance of the unfolding events, so that the play’s ending is timely and satisfying.

A masterfully crafted piece of theatre all around.

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