Stage

'Polygraph' blurs realities in a dark blend of blood and beauty

by Bronwyn Mahoney

Special To The Japan Times

The 1980s murder at the center of “Le Polygraphe” echoes that of an actress in the Canadian city of Quebec — a killing for which the chief suspect for a time was the renowned Quebecois dramatist Robert Lepage, who cowrote the play in 1987 with actress, author and theater director Marie Brassard. Postmodern blurring of reality and fakery is thus at the heart of this 90 uninterrupted minutes of onstage energy.

From the moment the three actors Mitsuru Fukikoshi (who plays David), Midori Laurence Ota (Lucie) and Kaiji Moriyama (Francois) arrive on the sparsely decorated stage the audience is forced to question where they were, and when, what was real and who may be telling the truth — about the killing; about their lives.

After introducing his costars and the story, the lights dimmed as Fukikoshi (who also directs) slid into character. Or another character. Then what a treat it was when Hitsuji Suzuki’s soundtrack began, reminiscent of Ry Cooder’s music for Wim Wenders’ 1985 film “Paris, Texas” — sexy and dark, its slide guitars slithering across the stage.

Two chairs and a table, the only furniture, also move across the stage, transforming it from upscale restaurant to subway platform to dingy toilet — aided by Mucho Muramatsu’s wonderful video shifting both places and times.

But we’re getting ahead — or behind — ourselves, as the multisensory story that unfolded on the Maison de la Culture du Japon’s stage had the audience in Paris, France, clinging on for the ride.

The action opens at the murder scene, with a forensic investigator taking photos, which flash on the screen behind him, including ones of blood-splatter patterns accompanied by descriptions of the wounds. This autopsy report is interwoven with a description of the dissections the Berlin Wall wrought on that city.

These are the first of several episodes in which shadows fulfil an important role. It’s a trope Fukikoshi uses well throughout the production as they often play out a scene the audience views simultaneously from a different angle, with them creating an impression that something else, or even nothing, is happening.

Fukikoshi’s David has the air of an everyman — Haruki Murakami, perhaps, with a touch of Shakespeare. He is there, at the beginning in the early ’80s, taking the crime-scene photos, and again years later. He is our thread. But linking what we still don’t know.

Then there’s beautiful Lucie Champagne, whose outfit places her squarely in that decade of Amazonian beauty — she’d slot straight in with the models who famously graced the video to Robert Palmer’s 1986 hit “Addicted to Love.” Here, though, Lucie’s not holding a guitar, but a skull, and we learn her dream is to be the first female Hamlet. Yet after witnessing a suicide, she doesn’t end up with Yorick, but with David.

And we meet Lucie’s neighbor, Francois: Kaiji Moriyama’s solo dance sequence of his character’s waitering is mesmerizing. He fills the space and each movement is purely exact, carrying us through his evening.

And so we have the threads of three lives, intertwining, but as they talk their intersections are revealed and deepened.

Francois was accused of murdering his friend; David investigated the murder; and Lucie is an actress playing the victim in a docu-drama. Francois is tormented, though his acting pulls the audience from belief in his innocence to suspicion. David seems above it all, but Lucie begins to doubt him and his motivations when his gift to her after a visit to his native East Germany reveals new layers — or, more correctly, reveals that there are layers being hidden.

At moments “Le Polygraphe” is a whodunit ; at others a “whatdidtheydo?” The denouement may not satisfy everyone — there is no tidy wrap-up, but as my audience neighbor said, “There’s no reason there should be; it’s the trip that’s important.”

In his post-performance talk, Fukikoshi, described Lepage as “a magician of video,” and explained how he married this with his own love of kabuki, employing the latter’s “flatness” and slow movements to create pauses for reflection and sensation.

Asked why he chose to play Paris before Tokyo, the actor-director said that he felt really at home in the French capital, and charmed the audience by jokingly asking if anyone knew of an apartment for rent. And riffing off the appreciative response from the room at the end of the play, he entreated us to recommend “Le Polygraphe” to friends in Japan, where it opens Oct. 19. It shouldn’t be missed. And that’s without a word of a lie.