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Production of Expound offers unique theatrical experience

Robin Waples

The director’s words kept ringing in my ears.

“You’re not here to make sense of it ... You’re here to have it all happen to you ...”

As I tried to absorb what was going on around me, I kept recalling bits and pieces of an earlier conversations with playwright-director Hillar Liitoja about the production he had written for Theatre Algoma.

“A mind-blowing experience ... a sense of spectacle ...outrageous ...”

Judging from the bewildered faces of my fellow theatre-goers, Liitoja had painted an accurate picture. This production we were experiencing was unlike anything we’d experienced before.

Expound, a theatrical event inspired by the writings of American poet Ezra Pound, opened Wednesday for a five-day run in the Algoma University College theatre, and if you’re at all interested in non-traditional theatre, then this is the show for you.

It’s a feast for the senses that thrives on spontaneity, and yet is structured into a specific form. It’s exhausting for the dozen or so performers, stimulating for the audience, and when the two factions intermingle, it’s electric.

When it’s over, you’ll feel like you’ve just participated in a group therapy session – somewhat drained, not quite sure of the outcome, and yet certain that you’ve shared something special with an intimate group of friends.

That’s not to say that this production is for everyone. Some may find the show offensive at times, too radical and too outrageous. Traditional theatre it’s not – not in any sense of the word.

Indeed, Toronto-born Liitoja, 31, founder and artistic director of Toronto’s DNA Theatre, does his best to do away with pre-conceived ideas associated with the theatre.

With Expound, for example, the entertainers and the entertained intermingle throughout the production. Audience members sit atop the scaffolding, under it, and beside it, and are encouraged to move about whenever they feel the urge.

With a circus of things going on all the time, the audience is provoked into feeling emotions that range from surprise to shock to distress to amusement. There’s an edge-of-your-seat excitement to the whole experience, and the one emotion you won’t feel is boredom.

The words of this production belong to Ezra Pound, a poet whose style set an example in the 1920s and 1930s.

He criticized materialism and capitalism, and broadcast fascist propaganda from Italy during the Second World War. He was charged with treason and arrested in 1945, but was found to be of unsound mind and placed in an insane asylum for 13 years. He died about 15 years ago.

Pound for pound, this is one heavy production.

The Sault Star
February 20, 1986