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Confounding Expectations
H.J Kirchhoff

I have mixed reactions to Hillar Liitoja’s drama/dance/comedy Poundemonium, which opened Friday at St. Paul’s Square. The subtitle is A Sensation, but the overriding sensation I took away from it was boredom, strongly flavoured with annoyance.

But the annoyance fades, leaving behind the jokey theatricality, some lovely dancing and good theatrical moments, and a spine- tingling climax that proved, unfortunately, to mark only the halfway point of this four-hour monster. Poundemonium has many memorable pieces of choreography and comic business, surrealistic tableaus, madcap action, gorgeous costumes (by Wendy White) and a lot of endlessly inventive lighting (Liitoja and William Holutiak) and sound (Liitoja and Dominic Giovinazzo).

But there is also a lot of pretentious, self-indulgent nonsense, usually presented at excruciating length, and even the good bits are repeated so often that they lose their piquancy. The show would be profoundly long at half its length.

On the positive side, the dancers are superb. Jacqueline Casey and Denise Druric lie, huddle, stand and sprawl – achingly slowly – on pairs of benches, in perfect mirror-image movement. Ballerina Jacqueline Appel, in a black-swan outfit and boots, makes several lovely and graceful appearances, including a long (naturally) solo and a sort of disconnected trio with Casey and Duric. Then there is the Iron Dance, in which four actresses in parody ball gowns dance with hot steam irons, an unusual blend of make-you-laugh and make-you-duck.

You have to admire Liitoja’s cheek, and also the craft and discipline of his cast and crew. Poundemonium may be boring, but not because people aren’t working. This is a recklessly demanding play for actors, but their energy is unflagging and – as far as one can tell – their timing is excellent.

There are a lot of interesting ideas salted into Poundemonium’s tedium, and a lot of hard-working young talent on view. And we should all have our theatrical expectations confounded from time to time. Perhaps if you go in expecting the boredom, it isn’t such a burden.

-The Globe And Mail May 1993