The Salon Automaton at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre

by Megan Mooney

Photo of Nathalie Claude by Rolline Laporte

If I had to choose one word to describe the Momentum production of The Salon Automaton showing at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre until December 12 it would be “creepy”.  For some people creepy is good, for some creepy is bad, and for others creepy is, well, it just is.  I’m more in the ‘just is’ category, so for me this is just an observation, but one to keep in mind.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I knew going into it that it would be creepy.  A play that features three life-sized automatons, well, it’s gotta be creepy.  You can’t have three automatons on stage interacting with an actor and it not be creepy.  But I don’t think I’d grasped just *how* creepy it was going to be.  I have a friend who has a puppet phobia, I’m pretty sure he would have had to leave.

Alison, my show-partner for this one, is a big fan of creepy.  She ate the creepy up.  We both really loved the atmosphere as you walk into the theatre.  Audience members walk through a ‘path’ that is flanked by artificial trees with tiny automaton birds that move and tweet when there is a loud noise, (we were encouraged to clap as we walked past them).  That was the first time in the night when I said “wow, this is really cool, and kind of creepy”.  It set the stage nicely for the production.

I’ve been really excited about this show.  I loved the idea of it.  The idea of a one-woman show that actually has 4 bodies on stage is a fascinating one.  Alison also loved the idea of the show.  Unfortunately we both felt it lacked a bit in the execution.  Specifically, it was too long.  One of the first comments Alison made was that she felt like every beat in the show was too long, she wanted to see everything tightened up.  I felt like the pauses might still work, but that there was content that could have been cut without losing the essence of the show.  Although our reasons differed, the bottom line was that we both wanted a shorter show.

The problem with a show that feels like it’s going on too long is that I may love it in the first bit, but then, if it starts feeling too long, then my enjoyment of the beginning is nullified.  Interestingly, other than the length and the things contributing to it (Alison really didn’t like the reliance on repetition to create a dramatic (or comedic) effect, and it certainly didn’t help with the length issue) it was a great show. 

Even though there was only one major issue for Alison and me, it was a big one.  It left me fidgety and hoping for the end.  Still, I’m glad I saw it.  It may have been too long for me, but it was filled with some amazing things.

The design was amazing.  A stage within a stage, a birdcage shaped room, and rich room decorations.  Three automatons that, when not ‘speaking’, look frighteningly life-like.  Complimented by wonderful lighting design and great sound.  The Salon Automaton is visually stunning, a feast for the eyes, so many intricate details to take in, so much richness to explore. 

Nathalie Claude, the only human on stage, and the playwright, is amazing.  I can’t imagine working with 3 (creepy) robots every night.  I can’t imagine the rehearsal process involved.  The programming by robotics designer Simon LaRoche is incredible, and the design of the automatons by Claude and set-designer Raymond Marius Boucher is amazing.  If you’re interested in some additional background on the piece, I really enjoyed this article in the Toronto Star.

Basically, it’s a really really impressive piece with some incredible talent, that was, unfortunately, totally overshadowed for me by its length.  I always think it’s better to leave the theatre wanting more than wishing for the show to end.  That said, I do actually recommend checking it out if you’re at all interested in things like automatons, because there really are a lot of amazing things about this piece.


– The Salon Automaton plays at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (12 Alexander Street) until December 12, 2009

– Ticket prices range from $15 – $29 and are available online, or by calling the box office at 416-975-8555

Photo of Nathalie Claude by Rolline Laporte