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Jonathon Young in <i>Brilliant!</i>. Photo: Tim Matheson.
Jonathon Young in Brilliant!. Photo: Tim Matheson.

Theatre Review: Brilliant! at the NAC in Ottawa

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Brilliant! The Blinding Enlightenment of Nikola Tesla runs in the Studio at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa through April 1. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at the opening night and has our review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

BRILLIANT! The Blinding Enlightenment of Nikola Tesla is just that - brilliant.  Written and directed by the Electric Company Theatre of Vancouver members Kim Collier, David Hudgins, Kevin Kerr and Jonathan Young, it's also performed by them, with James Long replacing Mr. Kerr.  I'm ashamed to say I didn't know who Nikola Tesla was.  Well, he was born in 1856 in Croatia, came to America in 1884 and died in New York in 1943.  His visionary inventions, principally alternating current that he teamed up with George Westinghouse to develop in 1888, ushered in the modern age.

The story is set in turn of the century New York.  It's told through a multitude of theatrical and cinematic conventions and with some of the most inventive and exciting staging I've seen. Andreas Kahre's minimalist set provides not only areas for projections, but also opportunities for humor using the center doors.  His depiction of Tesla's Long Island radio tower is stunning.  The lighting by Adrian Muir is very effective, especially his use of gobos.  A gobo, by the way, is a sort of stencil that fits over a light to make a pattern on the floor or backdrop.

Amos Hertzman is responsible for the terrific projections - both still and video.  David Hudgins is not only one of the writer/actors, but has also created a sound-scape with too many brilliant effects to mention.  Stage Manager Stephen Courtenay handles this complicated mixture of media with a sure hand.

Now for the actors.  All four are very good actors who also display astonishing physical dexterity and mime ability.  For example, it's quite clear what is happening when Mr. Hudgins becomes an x-ray machine for Mr. Long to put his head in.  It's also very funny.  Miss Collier is especially effective and quite eerie as a pigeon.  I should take this opportunity to mention Mara Gottler's versatile costumes and her terrific pigeon heads. Mr. Young is excellent as Nikola Tesla.  He shows us his passion for electricity both realistically and acrobatically.

The group staging is wonderful.  There's a clever group scene based around Tesla's obsessive-compulsive disorder, a live silent movie, a bicycle journey and an outing in a rowboat, complete with splashing oars.  One of the play's high points is an irreverent dance-off between a tap dancing Thomas Edison advocating his direct current and the flamenco stomping of alternating current inventor Tesla.

The play is largely biographical and has inspired me to find out more about this major but neglected scientific figure who died basically penniless.  Following his death the FBI confiscated all his documents and they've never re-surfaced.  However, at least one of his ideas has showed up in a top-secret joint U.S.Navy/Air Force project.  Hmmm!

BRILLIANT! overflows with creativity and humor and provides a solid ninety minutes of thought-provoking entertainment.  On a scale of one to five the Electric Company Theatre production at the NAC of BRILLIANT! The Blinding Enlightenment of Nikola Tesla gets four and seven-eights Royal Canadian Mounted Police. For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.

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