All Good Things gets up close

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      Written and directed by Bruce Barton. A Vertical City Performance production. At the Anderson Street Space as part of Boca del Lupo’s Micro Performance Series on Thursday, June 26. Continues until June 29

      All Good Things is so slight that it almost feels like it was written in pencil and then erased. There’s very little to it.

      In a tiny room, under the gentle light of a reading lamp, performer Martin Julien sits at a table. A preselected audience member joins him, Julien takes that person’s hands, and then proceeds to tell them the story of a traumatic event. Sometimes, Julien asks his scene partner questions.

      Apparently, the producing company, Toronto’s Vertical City Performance, doesn’t want to have the nature of the trauma revealed beforehand, but I knew what it was going in, thanks to the presenting company, Boca del Lupo’s press release, and I think it would be pretty obvious anyway. Curiously, writer and director Bruce Barton, who based the script on a personal experience, underplays the incident so thoroughly that he gets virtually no narrative or emotional juice out of it.

      Instead, he explores mild variations on its implications. “Do you get enough sleep?” Julien asks the audience member. “Do you have nightmares?” “Do you take risks?”

      That’s not enough to sustain interest, and the basic theatrical convention is arch: the conversation is obviously not spontaneous. On opening night, the volunteer asked her own questions of the actor, who responded—then quickly returned to his scripted agenda. Some bits are obviously performed, modulated for dramatic effect, and there’s a preset choreography of hand gestures. Because this artificiality goes unacknowledged by the performer, the presentation of intimacy feels false.

      The ebb and flow of Laird MacDonald’s lighting and the subtlety of Steph Bernston’s barely audible sound design are pleasing, and Julien is an engagingly warm performer, but I remained thirsty for narrative and thematic content.

      All Good Things was originally performed one-on-one: everybody who took it in held the actor’s hands. Because you’d be forced to actively negotiate the artificiality and intimacy, that experience might be significantly more interesting. Here, 10 of us watched from the near distance, and at least one of us struggled to stay engaged.