Death, Comedy, and Friendship: One Yellow Rabbit’s Gilgamesh Lazyboy

The story of Gilgamesh is an old story. Written on clay tablets in cuneiform, it’s one of the oldest stories in the world. It follows the friendship of Gilgamesh and Enkidu as they confront raspy-voiced demons, fiendish bulls, serpents, scorpions and tempting priestesses.

Gilgamesh Lazyboy - One Yellow Rabbit
Gilgamesh Lazyboy – One Yellow Rabbit

I wondered what a stage adaptation would do with the lofty spoken-word poetry so present in the literature. Could a theatre company deal with such weighty and wordy themes of death and mortality while giving the story appropriate narrative drive? One Yellow Rabbit is not shy about these themes in their adaptation. Most importantly, the narrative drive and the spoken-word poetry are seamlessly woven together.

Not necessarily a remounting, more like a revisiting from their 2009 production. The Rabbits tackle this newest adaptation with depth, versatility, and physical comedy that at times had the audience in stitches.

One at first may be confused by the title attachment of “Lazyboy” to this Gilgamesh epic. But when one enters the theatre, there they are: Three Lazy-boy recliners perched on the stage. Luckily, this is all grand design by director Blake Brooker whose tight control over the aesthetic matches the function and reasoning behind such a choice. It’s tied deeply to the idea of sleep and dreaming in this production. It’s a unique and eclectic choice and it works. Brooker’s adaptation is awash in simple choices vastly explored, tethered together by three excellent actors.

The performances reveal confidence. They reveal an ease that attests to the histories these actors likely have with each other. Christopher Hunt and Andy Curtis do solid work stabilizing the epic friendship of these two characters. I was genuinely touched watching Hunt’s half-god Gilgamesh lament the death of Curtis’s half-beast Enkidu. Theirs is the relationship that creates the status quo in this story. The many different characters that Denise Clarke incorporates become the challenge and chaos that confronts them.

Clarke is outrageously talented, nearly a contortionist in voice and body where each one of her limbs at times seemed to be its own thespian. Handheld microphones aided each performer in the differentiation of their characters, but none more so than Clarke whose voice is so small and nuanced in one moment and so explosive in another, that at times I questioned whether there wasn’t a ventriloquist act occurring.

The lighting design by Scott Baier aids a dreamlike veneer. In fact at one moment the lighting becomes the metaphor for the examination of reality itself. As Hunt’s character stabilizes himself on the backs of Curtis and Clarke and runs frenetically in space, a fading blue light focuses in, transforming him into the notion of a reverse hologram. I’ve seen dead artists appear on stage as holograms, but until I was witness to Baier’s lighting design, I’ve never seen a living, breathing actor turned into one.

David Rhymer’s musical composition like Baier’s lighting fits the dream landscape Brooker is aiming for, though at times the music becomes an antagonizing counterpoint through the various monsters that arrive through this production, almost always in the guise of Clarke.

Before the play started, Mr. Brooker made a point to thank the audience for attending, reminding them that this was the first production to take place for One Yellow Rabbit since the beginning of the pandemic. Ushers came by with service trays and offered shots as a toast to the reopening of the theatre.

And that’s the beautiful irony. That a play whose meditative focus is largely about the examination of death was introduced with a toast to the reopening of live theatre. Let’s keep that going.

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Gilgamesh Lazyboy is playing in the Big Secret Theatre at Arts Commons April 21st-30th, 2022. The running time is 90 minutes with no intermission. It’s produced by High-Performance Rodeo as part of the Calgary International Festival of The Arts, Spring Edition.