Entertainment Local

'The Ridiculous Darkness' shares serious job

By Zoe Grams

The Ridiculous Darkness runs from November 11 to 19 at the ANNEX. (Contributed Photo)

The Ridiculous Darkness runs from November 11 to 19 at the ANNEX. (Contributed Photo)

Alley Theatre is ambitious.

They are taking a fiendishly complex, multi award-winning German radio play, adapting it into a massive-scale stage production and doing so with dozens of diverse members from the Vancouver community.

The work opens on Remembrance Day at the Orpheum Annex and promises an irreverent, yet deeply thought-provoking look at mankind’s relationship with war and outsiders.

Despite the name The Ridiculous Darkness, this work is serious business and is uplifting. To bring the vision to lifem Alley Theatre - in partnership with Neworld Theatre - have brought together performers and collaborators from a staggering range of companies, including Theatre Terrific, Tetsu Taiko, Richmond Youth Honour Choir, Downtown East Side Street Market Society, Street Vendors Collective, Afghan Benevolent Association of B.C., Realwheels Theatre, and the East Van Powwow Crew.

Written by Wolfram Lotz and debuted in 2015, The Ridiculous Darkness combines themes from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness with the Oscar-winning film Apocalypse Now. The work follows two narrative threads: a Somali man charged with piracy and two western soldiers entering an unfamiliar land to retrieve a comrade. The play twists through characters and conflicts to arrive at an essential conclusion: humans need to become better at understanding one another.

Lotz’ instructions for adapting the radio play for the stage were simple: “Do what you like.” The final words from the writer? “Have fun.”

“We took him up on his offer!” laughed Marisa Emma Smith, who I spoke to alongside co-director Nyla Carpentier.

“[That] was pretty freeing for us. We thought, ‘How are we going to do this, and really tune into Vancouver,’” Smith says. “We thought about how diverse we are as a community yet how separate. Maybe this piece is a way to come together in the darkest time of the year and bring as many different types of people as we can to this piece.”

Each group involved have been given an opportunity to contribute and adapt the play to reflect their experience and skills, such as Tetsu Taiko drummers adding stunning percussion at key moments in the play. Theatre Terrific’s DisArts performers will explore the pain and power of labels, as they share the experience of being asked, “What do you want to be called?” Smith explained that this poignant, yet hysterical scene “puts the power back into the hands of the people on the other side of that question.”

The result is a surprising, challenging and highly original work that gleefully abandons traditional theatre conventions and barriers.

“Audience members may be asked a question,” says Smith. “The action may be above them or beside them. They may find themselves on a hillside, not in their chair. We want to take them on a journey with us.”

Alley Theatre is breaking the rules and delighted about it, building for the audience what they call a “giddy uncomfortability.”

Co-Director Nyla Carpentier summarizes the creation process by saying: “The most important thing is the journey… as we’re trying to find understanding, communicating with others. On your journey, you will meet different characters. One of the overall themes [of the play] is the trickster, who does the wrong thing for the right reasons. I realized there are characters like this, doing this very wrong thing but they’re doing it to teach us a lesson why.”

“What surprised me about coming into this was how I now respond to people different than I am,” she explains. “I’m opening up more as a human being.”

It’s a feeling audiences can expect too, when they see this massive production enabling varied groups to give voice to their personal experiences and articulate some of the greatest crises and joys of our time.

The Ridiculous Darkness runs from November 11 to 19 at the ANNEX. Tickets from $19 at www.ridarkness.ca