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The craziest poundfest of all 

Ray Conlogue

Hillar Liitoja has a thing about Ezra Pound. First he did a show called Pound for Pound. Then it was Half-Pound, and The Last Pound.

Now, at the Winchester Street Community Centre, it’s Pound-O-Rama, the craziest poundfest of all. Liitoja, like Dr. Frankenstein, has created a walking, talking Creature. It is composed of 17 performers who envelop the audience in a caressing blanket of citations, songs, and biographical readings accompanied by an assortment of private, repetitive motions and peculiar migrations to various points in the theatre. Some are lulling, some are angry, some are seductive, and some are funny.

They proceed, like the organs of some supranormal Pound, to loom passionately over the vaulted, white-painted theatre space, intently carrying out their assigned passages (like body organs) without the slightest acknowledgement of each other.

Liitoja appears to be a glorious obsessive. Anybody else would be content to read his favorite passages to friends, adding perhaps an affectionate anecdote about the grizzled, misanthropic poet who hissed out the last years of his fascistic, anti-semitic insanity at a safe distance from the homeland that would have locked him up without asking whether he was kidding.

But that’s not enough for Liitoja. Pound appears to kick open so many gateways in his nervous system that he has decided to re-create the experience for us.

The show, apparently chaotic, possesses some internal organization. The first part (also, unfortunately, the off-putting part; endure it with grace) feels like a huge metaphor about the hypnotic effect of rhythmic repetition. A woman hangs athletically from a ladder; another repeatedly marches upstage to utter the sentence “So, Mr. Styrax, you don’t believe in esthetics;” three dancers in clinging, plum-colored gowns proceed intently through a series of motions; a man in the audience reads quietly from a biography of Pound; a young woman on stage disrobes, then puts her clothes on again; all this as a thundering symphonic piece reaches a climax and finishes. As it begins again, the performers begin again – executing exactly the same words and sequences (except for those who, like the woman with the Mr. Styrax line, are doing a faster, internal repetition).

Much of this is maddening. The music makes it impossible to hear the performers. Some performers are muttering so quietly they evidently mean to be heard by only a portion of the audience. New performers wander in, dressed in judo costume or a strapless gown, and take up lines already uttered by others.

But it has an effect. The naked woman loses through repetition all erotic quality; others, by repetition, create comedy in words that are serious. The show makes friends with the audience on its own terms.

There is no conventional build to climax or moment. Things simply happen, now intensely, now not so intensely. Once or twice there is a prolonged silence and stillness, as if the performance were a gigantic person who has stopped a moment to rest.

The viewer’s eye wanders at will over the panorama. It may settle on an actor in the shadows who does nothing but point accusingly into thin air, his hand quavering with rage. A performer may settle down beside you and, startlingly, make eye contact and greet you casually. It is as if a large symbolist painting had come to life.

The apparent casualness conceals a high degree of control. The performer talking to me, a pre-Raphaelitish young woman with frizzed hair and a cotton shift, has a light focused on her, even though nobody else can hear her, and almost nobody else notices her. When she moves, the light follows her.

There is control on a larger scale. The first part of the show, organized around that single piece of music, is brightly lit by white light. The next part – more random and humorous, with little skits enacted on the verges of the audience, and Pound himself wheeled in a wheelchair, ancient and slumping – is lit by colored lights which gradually go out. There is a quiet, blue-lit sequence (blue lights focus on broken mirrors fixed to the walls), and then the lights and action increase again.

No actors have been individually mentioned here. Most are non-Equity; a few (especially the man wearing a tuxedo and an inflatable plastic dragon) are talented; but all are subordinate to Liitoja’s vision. This Mr. Poundenstein is his creation, and he has directed it fascistically. Every twitch, every syllable, every movement of every performance has been dictated. Nothing is spontaneous. These are charming automatons.

But the effect is brilliant and original and celebratory. The show, in fact, ends as a circus; a false concert; did it end at all; a curtain call with knives and carnations.

Unforgettable.

The Globe and Mail
October 31, 1985