Expound director has an obsession

Hillar Liitoja is a theatre director with an obsession. The obsession is Ezra Pound, and Liitoja’s productions consume Pound’s work with all the passion of a junk-food addict succumbing to the pangs of a “Big Mac attack”.

Recent shows in Toronto have featured the unlikely titles of Half-Pound, Pound for Pound, and even Quarter-Pound. Now Liitoja is taking his road show to Algoma University College, with performances scheduled for Feb.19-22.

What is it all about Pound that Liitoja finds irresistible? The Toronto director says: “You realize how uncanny he is with his precision. And he has charged the language unlike anyone else. He radicalized poetry and modernized it enormously.”

Liitoja and Pound apparently share a common ground in their radical approach to their work. Audiences have come to expect just about anything in a Liitoja production, from bizarre costumes, to elaborate movements and physical exertions. As many as four performers at a time will speak snatches of poetry in perfect synchronization from various parts of the stage, making it impossible to comprehend large chunks of dialogue.

One actress confessed that she’s looking forward to fulfilling a life-long fantasy on stage. “I want to be able to spit in front of an audience,” she said.

“It’s really sensory feast,” explains Liitoja. “You can look and listen to whatever you want…or you can completely give up and let the whole thing flow over you.”

Liitoja sets his players seemingly incomprehensible tasks that must be carried out with absolute precision. Even a task as mundane as squeezing an orange.

“There is no artistry at all. You don’t have to go to four years of drama school to learn how to squeeze oranges. It freaks people out. They want to know why they’re squeezing oranges…what is my motivation?”

Liitoja has pulled a tight blanket over many of the details of his Algoma University production (Expound), which will involve at least 12 students in performing roles. For instance, what does he intend to do with 700 pounds of scrap on loan from Trader’s Metal? “We’ve got a rather extraordinary prop…but I’m not going to divulge what it is,” he said. The Toronto director also revealed that his crew has visited area autowreckers, “to pick up some headlights and mirrors and other stuff.”

If Liitoja’s methods raise a few eyebrows, he is certainly no more eccentric than his inspiration, Ezra Pound, who during the Second World War proclaimed his loyalty to the Nazi cause in Berlin-sponsored radio broadcasts.

THIS WEEK, Sault Ste. Marie, Feb 1986