The Infinity Machine: Humber College Performance at The Theatre Centre

The Infinity Machine

Written, Choreographed and Directed by Sharon B. Moore
in collaboration with the Theatre Performance and Production Programs of Humber College

Humber College Movement and Drama

The Theatre Centre, Toronto

April 11-13, 2019

Reviewed by Beverley Daurio

Spiritual labyrinths and swirling rings of damnation, limbo and salvation twist and flower at the centre of many of the world’s great stories, from Greek myths to Dante. And one could argue that these whirlpools of thought nestle within a moral, energized philosophy that touches on the concepts of Yin and Yang, the zodiac and the mandala: in fact, they represent the constantly changing cosmos.

In The Infinity Machine, Sharon B. Moore has pulled together multidimensional quantum theory and spirit and body and the magic of philosophy, the history of such imagery, and clever character splicing into a dancing, rushing maelstrom of physics, clown, zombies, time as flexible concept, dance, and humour, with a generous vision of what meaning is and how it resides in and can be expressed by the smallest gestures and moments, in objects, and in human physicality.

We enter the intimate Incubator Theatre space at the Theatre Centre—a theatre with a sunken square centre, like a 1960s suburban living room, with one row of seating around all four sides—and immediately confront an apocalyptic scene of young people dressed in motley white outfits, their faces made strange by zombie-esque makeup, though nothing too violent or severe. They are moving, in circles, around and around, walking and looking, and the impression is strong that they have always been there.

This timelessness and sense of the eternal are part of what The Infinity Machine addresses. At centre stage stands a figure who is part circus ring master and part Joel Grey character from Cabaret—in a top hat, white collar and off-kilter tails. This character returns and recycles on occasion throughout the piece, as does the song “When I Wish Upon a Star,” providing punctuation and short, recognizable rest points.

All of the performers’ characters are complex splices, as the program list suggests. One actor’s roles are “Star the Horse, Polaris, a cosmic star, lizard, burlesque dancer, writer of stars” while another is “Doll face, Alberto the fish, Lover of the letter Q, Charlie and detective.” This fountain of creativity at the core of the piece is brought to realization, generating a responsive creativity in the audience.

It is a delight to watch these young performers limn their multiple characters with clean lines, strong presence and joyful emphasis—making it clear that they exist differently in different dimensions, going from sketch to feeling real in moments. This is difficult to do, and it is part of the magic of this piece that the structure—the conceit of the maelstrom as multidimensional universe, manifested in the constantly moving bodies of the performers—their presence as atoms, as ectoplasm, as the winds of time—also provides a sense of each individual, as the faces and complicated characters emerge and play their plays within the play. It is always implied that these are glimpses of the complex dimensions and lives out of which they appear to us—that these other lives are ongoing, beneath and beyond the dimension that we are allowed to experience in that moment.

For over an hour and a half, twenty-two performers move almost constantly on a small stage in shifting, swirling and directional changes without a hitch, while hitting a series of complex nodes where dramatic actions occur (an autopsy on a large plastic doll, a wedding with quirky uses of veiling, a song, and many other short sections) with precision. The effect is of angelic and demonic visions emerging out of a cloud of humanity, representing choices, events, and all from an inexhaustible cornucopia of the imaginary.

The use of props in The Infinity Machine is highly inventive and organic. Not only is the timing—again, through twenty-two constantly moving bodies over a long show— impeccable, but the props are hidden along the edges of the stage lip and so are not a distraction for the audience in anticipating their use. The performers subtly dip and claim cloth fish, spoons, long pieces of tulle, benches, soft fabric pigeons, costume changes, a fake pregnancy belt with a light inside it, and many other expressive and telling objects. These objects are lifted and blended into the waves of legs and arms and faces as we are pulled into a celebration of thought and spirit.

The performers are impressive. They move in and out of individual character at a moment’s notice, command the space for the duration of their solos, then return to the cloud of movement like birds being absorbed back into a flock seamlessly. At the same time, the individuality of each performer is also indelibly stamped on the work. Each actor is present, focused and individually expressive; every spot on the stage is populated by ingenuity and activity and the kind of light that comes from believing in a work and performers supporting each other. That this show was put together in three weeks is a testament to the performance program at Humber.