A largely autobiographical piece is easy enough to turn out either boastful and boring or reproachful and equally boring, and yet Robert Lepage’s 887 is remarkably balanced. The creator tightropes skilfully between laughter and sentiment, the personal and the communal, the macroscopic and the microscopic.
Robert Lepage comes on stage, tells us that the performance will start in a few minutes and starts telling us the story how 887 came about. How he decided to use the building as a memory palace when he couldn’t memorise Speak White, a poem by Michèle Lalonde for a professional engagement. Two hours on he still speaks and we now know about his taxi-driver father and homemaker mother, his siblings and his grandmother with Alzheimer’s; about Quebec in the 60s a politically volatile and violent time; about him reaching the age and level of success that a “cold-cut” piece – a video of his life’s achievements prepared in advance to be released posthumously – has been made, which he hilariously condemns as superficial and inadequate. We even get to witness his rousing recitation of Speak White.
A scale model of the tenement block he grew up in – in 887 Murray Avenue, as it were – becomes a cabinet of wonders, a revolving set that reveals the interior and exterior of the building; folds and unfolds to reveal and obscure Lepage’s current apartment and in one occasion transforms into a sleepy dinner offering cheap and greasy sustenance to the working stiffs pulling the graveyard shift. Tiny video screens for windows show the inhabitants going about their daily lives. Conveyor-belts, projections, models and miniatures also come to Lepage’s aid.
887 is not a series of life anecdotes expertly performed, that would be selling it very short indeed. Lepage seamlessly changes between the dramatic and the comic and successfully juxtaposes his own personal memories with those of the Quebecoises’ in the 60s, his own fraught relationship with his family with the fraught relationship between the Anglophone and the Francophone communities. The obstacles and restraints he and his family faced as working class people with the widening of the social gap, which is currently documented. It is a layered production that is current and political as well as engaging and emotional with impressive gadgetry that will hold you captive.
Performed in English and French with English surtitles