In a large blue and red box onstage, a man in a fedora hat and white button-down shirt, tie tucked neatly into his trim vest, waits alone.
He sits on his suitcase and begins to nod off.
The wall behind him is red. The floor is blue. No, wait. The wall is blue and the floor is red and he lies on the floor with his feet on the wall. He’s rooted to the ground. No, he’s sliding up the wall. It all depends on which side of the stage you watch. There’s the box itself at stage left, or the life-sized screen at stage right, showing a live feed of the box that wreaks havoc on your eyes: the image is rotated by 90 degrees.
And so, under director Daniel Brière, Y2D Productions flouts gravity in LEO, performed by the charming William Bonnet at the Arts Bank at the University of the Arts as part of this year’s Fringe Festival.
Bonnet’s back is actually on the ground, his knees forming a right angle to put his feet on the wall. The suitcase, flat on the floor under his legs, completes the perfect illusion: his video self is using the suitcase as a seat with his back to the wall. Bonnet marshals every muscle, curve and angle of his body, from his neck to his ankles, to perfect the rotated view on the screen.
The early question is how long Brière and Bonnet can captivate the audience with Bonnet’s sheer physical skill, operating in this profound yet simple visual shift. For most of the show (about an hour long) they succeed.
As the man onstage drifts off to sleep, his body begins to twist toward the wall instead of the ground. In the video projection, gravity has shifted while he closed his eyes. As he tries to keep his feet on what he thought was the ground, despite an apparently increasing tug from the wall, it could be an arresting meditation on what we’ll do to keep the world lined up with our perceptions, even if the reality has changed.
Soon, the man forgets all about whatever he was waiting for, and begins to explore his tiny altered universe. In a long, fluid musical and physical montage reminiscent of everything from clowning and break-dancing to ballet and a rock concert, the man tests his new-found ability to walk right up the wall—as it appears in the ingenious live projection.
As the man un-tucks his tie, tosses his hat, sticks his suitcase to the wall and pours water into his mouth, the audience is happily suspended between the two versions of the action. Brière and Bonnet catch the viewer in an extraordinary space: predicting the outcome of each movement while being delightfully surprised every time it comes true.
But as the show progresses, an apparent effort to extend the trick’s appeal through increasingly complex lighting, sound and animated projections turns the audience into passive viewers rather than co-conspirators on the edge of their seats, one step ahead of the character as he discovers new laws of physics. An increasingly frenetic Bonnet leaps, clings and cartwheels through the space as if seeking an exit, but the excitement of awaiting his next move is gone. A shortened, simplified performance would have done more to retain the magic of the optical illusion, first conceived and performed by Tobias Wegner.
But the performance regains its simple, extraordinary whimsy in its final moments, as the man in the box finds a means of escape that even the audience never could have guessed.
Photos by Andy Phillipson
LEO, performed by William Bonnet and directed by Daniel Brière, is presented by Montreal’s Y2D Productions, in association with Chamäleon Productions of Berlin. The show is running at the Arts Bank at the University of the Arts through September 22nd. For tickets and more information, visit the FringeArts website.