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Amazonian Illusions

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The following review was originally posted to Canoe Jam! Theatre Reviews at this URL:
It was saved on August 2, 2004 and since it is no longer available on the Canoe site, it is being posted here in its entirety.  This review is copyrighted 1995 by the Toronto Sun.

January 28, 1995

Amazonian Illusions

Toronto Sun
     Noble savages? The concubine who likes to be scarred?? The soldiers who don't know the war is over???
     Retro cliches abound in Ken Gass's Amazon Dream, a "spectacle-in-progress" that takes place "in the confused geography of the mind," but can be seen through next weekend at the Factory Theatre Studio Cafe on Bathurst.
     Also abounding are visceral theatrical moments.
     Cliche-in-chief is the philsopher-king (given stately grace and gravity by Errol Sitahal). His are the play's lyrical flourishes, essaylets on true love and art and innocence. His also are the concubines restrained, the responsibilities shirked, the fatal consequences misunderstood. He can romanticize suicide; solitude allows him "at last to form a world without contradiction."
     On the evidence presented the king is right: "Illusions are dangerous only to the fools who dare not dream."
     Nonetheless, also on the evidence, clichs would seem to be dangerous for just about everybody else. Recycled imagination is no imagination at all. Here be no subtext, only subconscious jangle from the clash of conceits.
     But as an epic 3-D cartoon fantasy it is satisfying and sometimes thrilling because it's so in-your-face - 17 physical presences are on stage within easy reach of every patron, and no one is more than a row away from the action.
     And it's all so profligate that it makes one greedy. I wanted more of Jordan Pettle's comic contortions, more of the self-loving femaleness of Sandi Ross, more of the explosive surprise of Paul `I am a gun' Lee, and more of the choreographed provocations of Jennifer Dahl, Monica Gan and Heidi Strauss.
     More could have been made of the comedic Japanese businesslikeness of Patrick Gallagher. More also of the chaste American flowering of worldly Jane Spidell.
     All would be more effective in a play without victims.
     The set-up for such is splendid. The beginning depicts a world in which fighting is action-adventure, power is only a trip, victimhood only voluntary. Cliches revitalize in such fresh air. Even the dancing aboriginal of peace seemed charming.
     Then we get told that reality is ugly. Gosh!
     My problem is not with ugly, but with obvious.
     The beating of the New Forest Soldier by the old ones is given a kick when an astonishing river of vocal effects from Paul Herwig undercurrents the action.
     But the torture of the lush and lusty concubine (Janet Lo) by her willowy and androgynous brother (Mark Lonergan) could be even kickier - both had riveting moments earlier - but as staged, the scene lacks even the imagination to be kinky.
     The March of Illusion is stirring. The drunken loutishness is boring. Amazon Dream (why Amazon? I know, why not?) is a solid, many-faceted piece of work sieved with imaginary holes.
     The emperor (Ken Gass?) has many guises. Suit yourself.