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Personal space
Robert Lepage contemplates the moon

Canadian playwright/director/designer/performer Robert Lepage may be earthbound, but his artistic ventures are free-floating. A master at fusing cutting-edge technology and stagecraft with elegantly quirky narratives, heís worked in performance genres from Shakespeare to opera to rock shows. This month, his much-acclaimed one-man multimedia theater piece the far side of the moon, which boasts a score by Laurie Anderson, comes to the American Repertory Theatre. Starring Yves Jacques in the dual role Lepage created for himself, moon is a poetic meditation on philosophy, science, and family dynamics.

The piece, which debuted in 2000 and won Englandís prestigious Evening Standard Award, was inspired by the death of Lepageís mother, and throughout, the subject of parental loss resonates for two brothers (both played by Jacques) who are emotional opposites. Whatís more, Philippe, a solitary scholar, is estranged from the younger André, an effusive TV weatherman. Lepage uses the space race between the US and Russia to explore fraternal rivalry on a larger scale. moon is "conceptual" in that the production, which requires 10 technicians, features complex and elaborate music, numerous lighting and prop cues, and a wide Cinerama-scale set. But itís also emotionally down to earth, with a theme of fractured families seeking solace.

Speaking from his home in Quebec City, Lepage explains, "In our company [Ex Machina], we rarely start from a written text, so itís complete chaos. Everyone throws in ideas and impressions, but you can only have a structured work of art if you start in complete chaos. So you have to trust that chaos will find its own order and beauty."

Lepage found order and beauty when contemplating the far side of the moon. "When the Russians sent the first Sputnik that brought back pictures of that side, people were shocked because itís the most disfigured face of the moon, where the comets and asteroids hit." Using the metaphor of dueling personalities, he realized that writing the piece for two brothers would enlarge his emotional palette, even though he admits that Philippe and André are just aspects of himself. "Thereís a side of mine thatís humble and a bit of a loser and a bit of a socialist, and the other side is very pretentious and showy and vain. Those two things are at war within me, and I thought it would be a good start."

For Quebec-born performer Jacques, the part has become an extension of his own life since 2001, when he began touring in the Lepage role. Although heís appeared in movies (most recently The Aviator), Jacques has refused other theater shows while moon continues to tour. "It grows on you," he explains over the phone from Paris. "Itís all about reconciling people and countries and these two guys having trouble in their life because of the fight for the love of their mother."

Yet the piece arose from humble, even mundane origins. Shortly after Lepageís mother passed on, he was walking through an alley and noticed in the trash the gleaming porthole of a discarded washing machine. "I saw this beautiful object and I couldnít tell if it was a washing machine or a space capsule." The sighting triggered a boyhood memory of visiting a Laundromat with his mother. "I thought, ĎBoy, this is cool ó itís Mission Control!í " Contemplating the washing machine made him think of the original lunar modules ó "crazy tin cans floating in space" ó and one of the unanticipated by-products of heroic early space travel. "When you have the experience of an astronaut, you donít see the conflicts, the decay, the pollution. You get the impression the earth is not at the end of things ó itís at the beginning of things, like a garden, full of hope from afar."

the far side of the moon is presented by the American Repertory Theatre at the Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle Street in Harvard Square, February 4 through 27; call (617) 547-8300, or visit www.amrep.org

Issue Date: January 28 - February 3, 2005
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