The Attaining Gigantick Dimensions “something magical”

Elissa Barnard of the Chronicle Herald reviews The Attaining Gigantick Dimensions. Read the review below or on The Chronicle Herald.

In its 15 years, Zuppa Theatre Co. has featured an actor eating on a giant, raw onion, a fog-filled subterranean space, a ceiling of hanging records, dense music, intense physicality and highly theatrical storytelling.

And now for something completely different.

The Attaining Gigantick Dimensions, while it has the same chewy title that Zuppa favours, is a remarkably intimate and gentle show set in Halifax today.

It’s visually stunning, with a stage populated by precise, miniature replicas of familiar north-end Halifax buildings. These open up like boxes, become park benches or hide the actors.

This show, at the Neptune Scotiabank Studio Theatre, has over 200 video cues, with little filmed figures appearing on and in the buildings. Macro video of disconnected heads and other imagery, like crashing waves, is projected onto a rear wall of window-like panels.

The storytelling is inventive and magical.

The story is a simple and poignant one about a brother, Frances, and a sister, Alice, and their best friend, the childlike, imaginative Martin.

The brother has returned home, damaged from two tours of duty as a translator in Afghanistan. His sister is in despair over their father’s recent terminal-cancer diagnosis.

The three are all drawn to her fellow teacher, Robin, a lively Texan who loves Halifax — the people are so friendly! — but is soon leaving.

The play, developed by Zuppa with Cleveland playwright Mike Geither, is told in the week leading up to Frances’s welcome-home party, which has wonderful dance scenes enacted by the large humans on stage and the tiny filmed figures in the windows of a house.

The Attaining Gigantick Dimensions, directed by Alex McLean, is whimsical and comedic in its characters’ quirks. Martin, wonderfully portrayed by Stewart Legere with nuance, nervous tics, down-to-the-second comic timing and a charming innocence, is responsible for a lot of the humour.

Ben Stone plays Frances, a closed-in, enigmatic and traumatized character who tries not to erupt. Stone suggests the hidden in Frances.

Susan Leblanc-Crawford’s Alice is also nervous and shut down by her fears for her father and brother, while Robin, charming and passionate as played by Zuppa newcomer Katie Dorian, is the sun to the siblings’ cloud.

The characters struggle to communicate honestly and deeply with one another, emphasized by their physical detachment as they talk while facing the audience and in the show’s design. The roar of sound at Peggys Cove drowns out their shouted lines, which the audience reads as text on a rear panel.

The lighting designed by Jessica Lewis is lovely and the rear frames are sometimes bathed in colour as if there were colour field paintings.

This show recalls Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, not so much in its heartache for a lost time, but in its meditative quality and precise setting, celebrating a city and its ordinary citizens who are trying to live out their lives.

“They seem like they’re in Halifax,” said my teenage daughter, who saw the onion eating years ago and loved this imaginative, intimate show set in her own city.

Surprisingly, The Attaining Gigantick Dimensions did not get a standing ovation on its opening night. The one hour, 40-minute play without intermission suffers from uneven pacing and sound balance problems (though we were right by a speaker).

The play could have ended three times, but the final ending is the right one.

The Attaining Gigantick Dimensions, demonstrating that Zuppa is a company that keeps inventing new and exciting ways to tell a story, is well worth seeing and I would highly recommend it to visual artists.

This production’s large design elements includes the incredible set by Katherine Jenkins-Ryan, intricate video design by Vojin Vasovic, costume design by Leesa Hamilton, sound design by Brian Riley and an original music score by Jason MacIsaac and David Christensen.