(re)discover theater has an excellent knack for playing with your unease and shredding any idea of protective distance from a stage full of powerful, unpredictable feelings. With “The Innocents,” you are invited onto the stairwells, into the crumbling chapels, and down into the cold, dark catacombs of Paris, with creeping hands and eyes coming a bit too close for comfort. The only comfort in these harrowing walls is knowing you’ll be able to escape this communal despair. Right?
Mathilde (Vahishta Vafadari) has died, and her lover Gui (Emilie Modaff) has grown despondent and has lost every shred of musical inspiration. Like a lovesick Orpheus desperate for a muse, Gui decides to track their Eurydice down in the dark, dripping catacombs under the streets of Paris. Once Gui has gotten sufficiently lost in the impossible map of crypt-keeper Jacques (Amanda Forman), and has tried summoning Mathilde with no success, other undead creatures wake to Gui’s candlelight, drawn like moths to flutter aimlessly and distract Gui from their task. The tribe of undead creatures surround like individual cyclones of sadness and longing, at once luring Gui to join them, and distracting Gui from finding Mathilde, who may have some compelling reasons to stay far from Gui’s grasp.
The story of Gui and Mathilde is threadbare enough to get lost in the face of overwhelming ambiance, or overpowered with louder tales of murder, cowardice and broken hearts. Such as Helene’s (Deanalís Resto) cursed midwifery, Ignace’s (Alec Phan) pleas to God to rescue them from their punishment, soldier Valentin’s (Matthew Lunt) fierce pride in his actions during battle, or Veronique’s (Andrew Lund) insistence that the crimes they committed were only for love.
Creator and director Ann Kreitman has left so much room in this playing space for audience inclusion and actor interpretation, especially in the realm of gender fluidity. The space provided for non-binary versions of masculinity and femininity is compelling in a way that sets the bar for Chicago theater going forward. Who would choose a staid, homogeneous and binary-conforming production, when you could have a wicked good time breaking arbitrary rules in shiny spats or a corset?
Emilie Modaff is focused and unblinking as Gui, a composer with no safe harbor, no support, and a future that could just as easily propel them to prestige or leave them to rot in a gutter. When the definitions of what is real and sane start melting away, Modaff’s Gui embraces that, as if the world has finally started making sense. Equal parts disturbing, funny, and frustratingly stuck pushing their boulders up never-ending hills are Amanda Forman as the forever itchy and unhinged Jacques, and Andrew Lund as Veronique, a commanding, self-elected queen of an undead empire. When Vahishta Vafadari appears as the elusive Mathilde, she comes with the truth, anger and wisdom everyone has been trying to avoid; no one can exist just to be a muse, and a collection of old skulls won’t help you solve your problems. Take this weird journey and ask every burning question, just know that someone tore out and ate the answer sheet long ago.
DICE RATING: d12 –– Heckuva Good Show
TEN WORD SUMMARY: Leave all of your questions and expectations outside these catacombs.
Show: Les Innocents/The Innocents
Company: (re)discover Theatre
Venue: Preston Bradley Center, Mason Hall (941 W. Lawrence Ave)