By Jen Gerson
“Lights up,” says the director, dressed in an oversized vintage striped shirt and faded purple socks. The female actor obeys, hits herself and falls backwards to be caught by her male counterpart who then swings her in a semi-circle and throws her to her feet. Darth Vader breathing spliced with the occasional techno beat is playing in the background.
“Let’s do that again,” says Eugene Slonimerov, the 2002 Ryerson theatre technical production graduate who wrote and directed This, Forward. The 20 minute play will be featured at this year’s Rhubarb Festival.
“I’m still a very young director,” says Slonimerov, a native of Belarus. He says he doesn’t yet consider himself a professional. “I’ve spent the last five years learning to create something.”
This, Forward “was more an urge to create a play rather than selecting plays. I was inspired to create from nothing and work on my own ideas,” says Slonimerov.
The play only has two actors and is a continuation of a project started at Ryerson last year. It is the sequel to This, another of Slonimerov’s creations, and based on the title character in Samuel Beckett’s book Molloy, a dying man who observes both the world and the decay of his own body.
Actor Mark Rainey, who also stars in This, Forward, and current Ryerson theatre student Daneel Roberts performed This in a “crappy, claustrophobic” apartment instead of a theatre.
Ryerson theatre professor Mark Ceolin, who taught Slonimerov, was impressed at the combination of theory and practice his former student managed in This,
“What he’s done is interpreted Beckett and created a piece that’s very much his own,” says Ceolin.
Slonimerov started working on This, Forward last August, drawing once again from themes in Beckett’s work.
“[It’s about] the things that don’t let us sleep at night, the end of the world,” he says.
This, Forward, has an unresolved, lingering quality to it.
“The play is like a conversation with a Judeo-Christian God. It’s asking ‘are you there?’ and feeling maybe he’s not. But there’s never a definite statement … [the play] is open-ended,” says Slonimerov.
The play was inspired by Slonimerov’s trip to the war-torn Republic of Georgia. There he worked as an assistant director and puppeteer apprentice with the Rezo Gabriadz puppetry theatre. He describes Georgia as a “sad world.”
“It’s been taken over by America. There’s Coke advertising among the ruins and women begging for money who used to be doctors,” he says.
He says This, Forward is “holy” and “ritualistic.”
“It’s ritualistic in the sense I am trying to talk to God. A long time ago religion and theatre were one – t was cavemen with fire talking with spirits. This is theatre in 2003, after it’s been declared God is dead,” says Slonimerov.
The play relies heavily on repetitive and hard physical choreography. Physical theatre focuses more on movement and gesture and less on the spoken word, says Ceolin. “It’s even hard to describe the feeling because much of it plays on your sensations” he says.
“It’s been good to get into acting from the physical side,” says actor Natasha Greenblatt. “I’m letting go of preconceived ideas about how to approach theatre.”
Slonimerov’s emphasis on the physical extends to the way he uses the space on stage.
“It’s very dark, you don’t see the play space at all. All you see are the actors in narrow beams of light,” explains Slonimerov, biting his nails as Rainey continues hitting himself repeatedly.
“I’m very grateful to all my teachers at the Ryerson theatre school… they really taught me how to be a human being before being an artist,” says Slonimerov. “[They taught] to speak from your heart.”