The Gazette

March 18th, 2000, Pat Donnelly

Lepage's Geometry refines Wright angles.

The works of Robert Lepage aren’t so much plays as they are dreamscapes, obeying the mind’s nocturnal whims rather than its daytime logic.

His Geometry of Miracles is a flowing visionary piece that follows the life story of renowned American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, from age 62 to his death almost 30 years later. When it was launched two years ago at the Du Marier World Stage festival in Toronto, it was a 41/2 hour epic with no epicenter. Peripheral characters talked about Wright. His widow donned his coat. But no actor had yet been found to portray on stage the father of organic architecture. Now, the show that underwhelmed Toronto has been thoroughly rewritten, with juicy biographical details added, and the playing time cut to less than three hours (with intermissions). Wright is represented by British actor Tony Guilfoyle, a silver-haired Paul McCartney type with wonderfully understated delivery and a credible American accent.

The link between Wright and Greek-Armenian guru Georgi Gurdjieff, who counted Wright’s third wife, Olgivanna, among his disciples, now seems more integral to the work, as does his relationship with his wife (Lise Roy).

The devil, too, looms larger, not to mention flamboyantly naked. The struggle between the genius and his demon is echoed by an invigorating acting match between the players who portray them.

For openers, Rodrigue Proteau, a dance-actor long associated with Carbone 14, emerges from behind a drawing board, wearing nothing but demonic horns. He slips on to Guilfoyle’s lap, only to be put in his place by the drop of a hat to his crotch. Guilfoyle wins the round, as Wright ultimately wins back his soul. But the ubiquitous Proteau returns as Gurdjieff, Lenin and a waiter, ever ready to steal a scene. He cuts his most striking figure as the growling devil in the desert puffing on two fistfuls of cigarettes - the modern smoker demonized.

What Wright wants from the devil is prolonged youth. What he gets is three decades of renewed creativity after the age of 60. The devil isn’t the only one who wants his soul. Herbert Johnson of Johnson’s Wax, and every other corporate hustler of the time, knows a Frank Lloyd Wright building is the ultimate status symbol. As Johnson, the fast-talking Thaddeus Phillips stops the show by tap-dancing his dictation to his secretary Marge (Kevin McCoy). He also shines in the dinner scene in which Wright’s disciples deftly assemble a building model out of wine glasses and plates.

Rick Miller (of McHomer fame) gives a strong performance as son-in-law and fellow architect Wes Peters, who never quite escapes the Wright family web after his wife, Sveltana (Catherine Martin), dies.

The closing disco scene makes more sense than before as Peters and fellow disciple Jacques L’Allier (Jean-François Blanchard) loosen up their limbs with Gurdjieff spiritual-exercise moves and pass them on until the whole crowd is doing geometric dance. Meanwhile, the credits roll and the Wright-Gurdjieff legacy lives on.

This sweeping, thought-provoking piece is performed almost entirely in English with French subtitles. But a couple of second-act Paris scenes are in French only, without translation. After Montreal, the next stop is Chicago, where Wright once ruled supreme.