Review: Bugzzz – A Cautionary Tale (Out of the Box Productions)

Neema Bickersteth and Matthew Romantini in Bugzzz - A Cautionary TaleFlock over to Toronto’s Wychwood Theatre for Bugzzz – A Cautionary Tale and leave the repellent at home

Bugzzz – A Cautionary Tale is a world that contains only insects. This play is being performed at the Wychwood Theatre in Toronto. It is a must-see.

Bugzzz  combines drama, dance and opera to tell the story of a world where humans have become extinct. Insects are the only living beings.

As I approached the venue, I noticed at least two weddings going on in the area. There were lots of people working on their young, promising gardens. People were good, the future was bright.

Inside, there was a firefly/dragonfly (Neema Bickersteth), a stink bug/dung beetle (Chris Karczmar) and a stick bug/praying mantis (Matthew Romantini). The future was over!

This is a world imagined by Gwen Dobie and William Mackwood. It is brought to life by the incredible team at Out of the Box Productions. This post-apocalyptic world created by their creative team is incomparable.

The three insects remember humans from the garbage they’ve left behind. Eventually they discover a copy of Puccini’s Tosca on the decaying steps of the Paris Opera House.

They ask how humans could destroy the world but also are able to produce something as beautiful as Tosca. It’s like asking how Detroit can be home to Motown music but also have hosted race riots.

Seeing any one of the three performers would be a treat. Having them on stage together is being witness to a bona fide “dream team”. There’s a great synergy between the three.  You’ll have a tough time picking a favourite. I couldn’t.

The stage for Bugzzz is largely bare. At the back is a deceptively simple open book- a novel. The “book” is used as a screen to project gorgeous and inventive scenes. Its pages change through projections.

The creative team uses light, sound and cutting edge technology to create a live graphic.

Meanwhile, the costumes would be great without the advanced technology. With the technology, the performers almost change costumes, depending on what is projected onto them.

At times I wasn’t in a theatre. I was immersed in the same world as the insects. The sounds of “drunken bugs” fill the theatre throughout the play. The sound isn’t a “tape loop” as one would imagine. It is well researched recreations of the sounds of actual insects.  At one point I had to stop myself from reaching out to swat away a sound!

However, the technology in no way overwhelms the performers. Both are equally compelling. Also, the message remains powerful but not preachy.The beauty of the play is extraordinary on many levels.

For a moment or two, Bugzzz felt like it was written as a school lesson. However, it always held my attention. This is a play that knows when to draw the line on technology at the same time it draws the line on preaching. The story and the drama remain most important.

When Flit, Bott and Klik, the insects, unlock the secret of music, it is a holy moment. I shared their amazement and joy.

At times the play is as loud as 90s industrial music. At times it is as divine as the opera Tom Hanks listens to in Philadelphia. It’s always human.

One doesn’t have to love opera to like Bugzzz. The play was an introduction to the art form for me and I appreciate opera more after seeing the play.

The only thing I didn’t like is that my friend Roger wasn’t able to join me. He’s a dad and I would have loved to hear his thoughts about how his children would have received the play.

Afterwards, we were treated to a “Tech Talk”. Gwen Dobie moderated Don Sinclair and William Machwood. It was fascinating and hopeful. These are three people who are as generous as they are gifted.

They explained how they created a rewarding play in a tiny theatre. They were also green about it. The play uses less waste and energy, thanks to cutting edge hardware. Technology is freaky scary and fascinating at the same time!

If Bugzzz – A Cautionary Tale is ever remounted, I’d love to see it performed in a tent on a warm summer evening. Don’t take chances though, make plans to see it!

Bugzzz -A Cautionary Tale is playing at the Wychwood Theatre at Wychwood Barns (601 Christie Street) until June 10, 2012
-Shows run Tuesday to Sunday at 7:30 with matinees on June 2, 9, 10 at 2:00
-Ticket prices range from $17-$25
-Tickets are available online or by phone at 416-537-4191 (x224)

Photo of Neema Bickersteth and Matthew Romantini by Don Sinclair