Where were you when Whitney Houston died? I was sitting in the lobby of a community centre, waiting for an appointment. A friend texted me and said, “The internet just told me Whitney Houston died,” and my response was something like, “Dear God, I guarantee within the next 15 minutes somebody nearby will find out and let everyone know, and then we’ll never hear the end of it.” Less than 10 minutes after this exchange, one woman across the room from me turned to her two friends and said, “Oh my God! Whitney Houston’s dead!” Her friend, without missing a beat, replied, “I BET IT WAS THE DRUGS!” And with that, the last ounce of sacredness in the world disappeared. I remember where I was when Amy Winehouse died, and when Steve Jobs passed away, and when Michael Jackson expired, not because I want to remember; there was no choice involved. When a celebrity dies, the pain and misery doesn’t stop there; it has to be exorcised from the world through an army of talking heads, a sea of crocodile tears, and a star-studded funeral streamed live. There’s a really good term: the celebrity-industrial complex. The term refers to the relationship between fame and corporations, and denotes a society in constant celebrity-induced psychosis.
Candles Are for Burning’s main-stage premiere, Bliss
, begins with three Walmart employees talking about their experience at the Céline Dion Farewell Tour concert. They are in complete ecstasy remembering the way love flowed out of Céline and entered them, leaving them enraptured. Then there’s a shift, and we’re taken into the bedroom of Céline and husband, René, where the Walmart employees have become the voyeuristic staff and medical personnel present at Céline’s premature birthing of devil spawn. Then there’s another shift, and another following that, and throughout all of this, we, the audience, watch. And we are culpable. Probably needless to say that if Bliss
has a target audience, I am it: a misanthrope, constantly terrified by the mass-media spectacle and every single person in the world’s role in it. If you want to see a show that’s easy to process, Bliss
is not for you. As promised and delivered by director Steven McCarthy, Bliss
is a show that really does take place in the minds of the audience, as much a parade of spectacular horrors as a play. What we’re confronted with is an ugly truth, and it's one we all create and perpetuate.
This is facilitated by a group of actors completely prepared to lull us unwittingly into the monstrosities that await. There could not be, and thankfully is not, a weak performer among them. Trent Pardy, Jean-Robert Bourdage and France Rolland make up something between a sketch troupe and a chorus, with Delphine Bienvenu as the ringmaster and the oracle within the Grecian tragedy. The energy involved in what they do on stage I can’t imagine, because every single one of them channels something really dangerous and scary. There is one moment of the play that stands out clearly in my mind; something terrible has just occurred, the lights cut through the scene, Céline Dion blares nightmarishly and the Walmart employees’ faces are twisted in tearful pain. This ceases, the oracle urges on the action, and Bourdage fleetingly gazes out into the audience, looking broken. This is the first piece of theatre I’ve seen in a while that really made me feel something; the feeling isn’t good, but there’s so much in it. Céline Dion would probably call it love.
Bliss continues at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander St until Sun, April 8. buddiesinbadtimes.com