‘Divide’ imaginative, epic story-telling

From a rain-splattered trek along B.C.’s West Coast Trail to a post-apocalyptic visit to a Vatican wasteland, the world premiere of Ignition Theatre’s Divide takes you on an unsettling ride to the end of the Earth as we know it.

From a rain-splattered trek along B.C.’s West Coast Trail to a post-apocalyptic visit to a Vatican wasteland, the world premiere of Ignition Theatre’s Divide takes you on an unsettling ride to the end of the Earth as we know it.

Joel Crichton’s highly imaginative solo performance piece, which opened Thursday at the Nickle Studio upstairs at Red Deer’s Memorial Centre, is many things, including a beat-boxing musical of sorts.

It’s so jam-packed with ideas that fly at such a furious pace that its premise is almost hard to describe.

Mainly, Divide is a feat of epic story-telling that bears a trace resemblance to T.S. Eliot’s poem, The Hollow Men, about living in a post-cataclysmic world without God.

The thought-provoking one-man show, directed by Beau Coleman, begins with Crichton’s own guilty social conscience.

The playwright, the audience quickly learns, is someone with deep ideas about his own complicity in the Earth’s downfall.

Climate change, over-population, war, religious intolerance and other global problems are weighing heavily on Crichton’s mind.

The former Red Deer College student, now based in Edmonton, actually contemplated these things while spending five months walking and then sailing around the world.

This journey of self-discovery inspired Divide, which begins with Crichton describing his fundamental dilemma — he would happily enjoy life in an earthly paradise, such as New Zealand, if he wasn’t tormented about paradise lost, and what he can do to help prevent the world’s demise.

In Divide, Crichton portrays himself — a young idealist trying to grow from a “24-year-old boy to a 25-year-old man.” He also depicts his hypothetical son and granddaughter, who live on a greatly diminished Earth.

His “son,” Will is a New Zealander who has journeyed to Vatican City to try to find meaning in religion.

In Divide’s most moving passages, Will finds discovers graffiti, corpses, discarded needles and other detritus of a collapsed civilization in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Christ didn’t die to help us, “he died to get away from us,” concludes a devastated Will, who spends much of his life wandering the wasteland trying to find some useful purpose.

Lucy is the daughter Will hardly knew. She’s making an escape (from what?) on a Chinese sailing ship that will take months to travel to Europe.

Besides living in a world with no airplanes, no internet, and no TV, familial relationships have also broken down.

And Lucy, who has a reason to look towards the future, appears haunted by her own lack of parental ties.

She wants a traditional family, but is mostly angry.

And the venting of Lucy’s rage — shown in bitter beat-boxing segments — is perhaps the show’s greatest weakness because we don’t fully understand Lucy or her surroundings.

Crichton needs to do more to flesh out the character, and the altered world she lives in (Lucy mentions winning awards and experiencing professional jealousy — is this still happening in a post-apocalyptic society, or have things started to rebound?)

But these are small difficulties in a 60-minute performance piece that hangs on imagery, language and big ideas.

The questions that Crichton tackles in Divide — how we can take social action, and whether we can ever know if our actions affect anything? — are certainly timely and worth exploring.

For those reasons alone — nevermind Crichton’s commanding stage presence and his emotion-laiden singing voice — this original show is definitely worth seeing.

Divide continues to Sunday night.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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