As an actor and world-class theater, film and opera director, Robert Lepage has become renowned for his unconventional productions using high-tech devices. Now, though, Tokyo audiences can feast their eyes and minds on this 56-year-old French-Canadian’s early masterpiece, 1987’s “Le Polygraphe (Polygraph),” a play that portrays the pain heartless society can inflict on individuals.
With a style that rests on intuition and allows actors and technicians to invent as they go along, Lepage nonetheless locates cross-cultural experiences and diverse baroque settings at the heart of his works. Rather than relying on themes, principles and subjects, his creative process also draws on resources as disparate as memories, places, anecdotes, historical events and decorative elements that he infuses with meaning and emotion.
With such fertile ground on which to cultivate a free association of ideas, Lepage’s works are wont to discover and reveal poetic connections between seemingly unrelated elements in an organic manner, like a tree whose branches grow in unexpected directions.
Back in 1995 when I first saw this piece at the Hong Kong Arts Festival, it starred the French-Canadian actress Marie Brassard, who worked with Lepage on the concept and script. I was fascinated by the play’s multilayered structure surrounding a 1983 murder mystery in his native Quebec City.
However, it was shocking to behold the dark side gushing out of people twisted by Cold War suspicions, while the lofty poetic sentiments quoted from the likes of Shakespeare and Jean Cocteau mingled with the work’s whiff of blood in powerfully moving ways.
Then two years ago in Tokyo, Mitsuru Fukikoshi directed the work, translated by Kazuko Matsuoka, as a sophisticated piece of physical theater. That time, instead of critics observing that the Canadian actors’ “graphic bodies were brought to the brink of explosion by the pressure,” as they had in 1995, they praised the Japanese cast’s “stylish bodies” and “casual indifference” to the cold-blooded nature of the government and media.
In 2012, too, the play’s many kinds of violence — from a callous police investigation hiding behind the authority of the state to the sexual act of being whipped — were portrayed in a setting where the Internet was ubiquitous.
Let’s set the scene as this play returns to Tokyo with the same cast of just three actors: In 1983, Francois (Kaiji Moriyama), a political science student, takes a polygraph test when he is suspected of killing an ex-lover. Six years later, his neighbor Lucie (Midori Laurence Ota), an actress who is playing the victim in a film about the same murder, becomes close to an investigator from East Berlin named David (Mitsuru Fukikoshi) — who supervised Francois’ test and knows the result.
Along with surprising humor amid the tension, however, the key to this drama are “walls” — whether in a scene symbolizing the time David crossed the Berlin Wall to the West, or in Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy which, as delivered in a pure and clear voice by Ota, captures the brittleness of “the wall that separates life and death.”
Meanwhile, dancer Moriyama portrays Francois’ escapes into drugs and sex in such a wild and yet intense fashion that despite the “wall to protect emotional wounds” he builds around himself, his desolation is almost tangible.
For Fukikoshi, who appears in a wide range of dramas as well as solo pieces, this is his first time directing someone else’s play — a work for which he also designed the sets. With videos by Mucho Muramatsu, lighting by Satoshi Sato and music by Hitsuji Suzuki, this promises great things for Tokyo audiences.
“Le Polygraphe (Polygraph)” runs Oct. 19- Nov. 2 at Theatre East, Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre in Ikebukuro. For details, visit www.geigeki.jp or call 0570-010-296. This story was written in Japanese and translated by Claire Tanaka.