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LAST SUPPER: A performance of euthanasia

By now, everyone knows to expect the unexpected from Liitoja’s DNA creations. He is regarded as one of Canada’s most influential and challenging theatre artists. In my experience with his style of theatre, I found myself agreeing and always thirsting for more. Patience and a willingness to be distressed by your own inner monsters are necessary to be able to withstand Liitoja’s universe.

The announcement that his current production dealt with a terminally ill man, who, in a time when euthanasia is legal, wishes to choreograph the last three hours before his death, no longer shocked. In fact, it was rather intriguing.

The Backspace had been transformed into Chris’s (Ken McDougall) bedroom, and the action was to take place in real time: three hours – which is nothing if you remember his Hamlet or the more recent Poundemonium. Screened at the door and proceeding through a standard DNA entrance ritual, the audience inhabited the cozy cluttered room at the booming sounds of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony. The centre of the room was dominated by Chris’s bed, McDougall already lying in it. As his love Val (Jim Allodi) appeared, the “play” began. But soon after, the eccentricity wore off and one was left with two-and-a-half hours of forced dialogue, awkward plot developments and boredom.

Liitoja has dehumanized his characters to such an extent in his pursuit for absurdity that they have become puppet caricatures reciting trite lines. During their last supper together, Val and Chris reminisce about happier times travelling through Europe. Excruciating pain can be seen on Allodi’s face, as McDougall remains resolute in his decision, but the dialogue is atrocious. Liitoja has packed it with obscure references in cryptic format, inducing an extreme sense of pretentiousness and thus completely eradicating any possibility of sympathy or attachment we might develop for Val and Chris.

Sky Gilbert’s blank portrayal of Dr. Parthens is cold and insincere, and his presence is always a clumsy intrusion. The ultimate in embarrassing theatrical choices is Chris’ decision to dance – masked – for the last time while his lover takes pictures. A potentially beautiful goodbye is overdone by flinging white flowers and ridiculous hand movements.

In order to fill the three hours, Liitoja played an entire symphony, screened the ending of Kubrick’s Space Odyssey, and had Val show Chris one by one several objects of art from the bedroom. Quantity rather than quality seemed to be Liitoja’s guide, a tendency illustrated even in the set design.

One always expects to be disturbed by a DNA performance but never until now, disappointed.

Theatrum #37
February/March 1994