Writers: Christopher Ford and Dakota Rose
Director: Dakota Rose
Reviewer: Amy Surratt
The White Stag Quadrilogy is the second work at Dixon Place by On The Rocks Theatre Company concerning the character of Jerry Wolfhert (Andrew Butler), a philandering self-made and self-important filmmaker who is, ostensibly, a man, we love to hate.
An upbeat seventies rock/pop sound design juxtaposed against the image of antlers hung askew above a vivid red carpet at first creates a feeling of foreboding– which is soon dismantled by the entrance of a determined and absurd ensemble of characters.
We quickly learn that Hollywood icon Wolfhert is under house-arrest for drug and sex-related offenses, but is determined to finish the final installment of a tetralogy based on Kate Seredy’s award winning children’s book The White Stag. To that end, he has gathered his long-suffering ex-wife, Pearl (Rebeca Miller), a idiotic duo of neophyte filmmakers in Earl (Derek Smith) and Michele (Michelle Uranowitz) who also happen to be his ex-wife’s siblings, and Boots (Jaime Wright) a vapid and oft-objectified stripper. Let the good times roll.
The camera is certainly rolling, we are told, and the audience is placed at the intersection of theatre and film, witness to the antics of a freaky man, and those who enable him, on a desperate quest to prove himself a genius after all.
The action of Wolfhert’s film is typically represented through Chloe Kernaghan’s choreography, and although it has some delightful highlights (a committed line-dance to “Lonesome Loser” is a standout in the first act), the real comedy is sometimes lost to the pacing. The interspersion of dense blusteringly-delivered text passages combined with overlong movement sequences can make the play itself feel arduous at times.
Butler is a convincing sleazeball and Smith, Uranowitz, and Wright perform admirably at portraying terrible performers. All are amusing, especially as they navigate the absurd production values for the film – stark white stag masks, and papier-mâché bird puppets which tie everything together in equal parts haunting and comedic design aesthetic.
Thankfully, this tongue-in-cheek lampoon of auteurism doesn’t ultimately settle for a simple documentary satire (and resultant weird/backfiring glorification) of the old boy Wolfhert. The show-stealer in this work is clearly Pearl – not in small part due to Miller’s adept comedic austerity – whose heretofore steadfast commitment to these absurd proceedings remains oblique until the second act. Is she still in love with Wolfhert? What could possibly commit her to the continuance of this doomed artistic process?
The White Stag Quadrilogy becomes, in her hands, a more meaningful allegory for the relationship of man to nature. And while Pearl’s vision of the ending of the film has something to teach us about mankind’s journey to the Promised Land, the mysterious and inhuman hanging man/stag image we are finally left with doesn’t provide all the answers.
This production has the hallmarks of all things we love in hip 2016: old technology, funky and/or period costumes, eye-catching Instagram-worthy “stage-pictures” and long-winded diatribes which reveal deeper (most often problematic) social constructs. 2016 also marks the 30th anniversary year of Dixon Place, an artistic incubator for original works of theatre. One wonders where a madcap work like The White Stag Quadrilogy might otherwise have found its footing.
Not for all tastes, but this dance-theatre piece does inspire reflection on how we tell the stories that are important to us—and who is granted the role of auteur. Have a beer at the bar upstairs, and commit yourself to the fun of it. You might find a surprise or two along the way.
Runs until 27 February 2016 l Image: On The Rocks Theatre Company