Opposing sides of life examined

By Alex Brown

Every superhero must have a nemesis; every white knight, a dark opponent.

Playwright Connie Gault investigates this age-old theme of cosmic duality as it relates to human nature, examining ordinary, basic emotions in conjunction with their sinister twins. Strings of opposing images make up the unlikely backbone of her play Red Lips; red lips in a grey night, high society matrons and destitute street waifs, old ladies and young girls. Red Lips, one of four productions premiering this month at Alberta Theatre Projects’ PanCanadian playRites 2001, focuses primarily on the relationship between desire and disappointment as they influence the way people live their lives.

"The play explores how we contend with supposed fulfillment of desire or the lack thereof," comments director Paula Danckert.

This tension between fulfillment of desire and the ultimate presence of disappointment manifests itself in protagonist Janie. The play opens as she and two friends, in search of their memory, enter a museum on a quest to find that one article that will speak to them. The exercise sets off a chain of events, which eventually cause Janie to face a universal dilemma: Is it better to submit to the tepid circumstances of your life as it is, or risk it and fling your fate into the wind?

The question roots itself in the struggle between desire and disappointment. The contrast in Red Lips is between "the idea of reaching to satisfy desire," explains Danckert, "or accepting circumstances as the are."

Such a question is difficult to articulate in dialogue. For this reason, says Danckert, "much of the narrative sits below the text." To allow for the emotions and ideas of the play to be broadcast, elements that sometimes are considered peripheral are brought to the forefront here. This includes technical feats involving sound and lighting detail.

"[An] integral part of the narrative is sound and lights," expresses Danckert. "They work not only to shift us geographically but emotionally and psychologically."

The lighting, sound and movement throughout the production emphasize the deep emotions that the characters experience. The colour red captures the essence of this emotion.

"[Red] comes from desire… from the heart. When the heart swells with joy, it is very red," says Danckert. "When it cries and bleeds with pain, it is also red."

The powerful duality of joy and pain, desire and disappointment is entirely summarized in this colour.