Author’s Note: The following was an assignment written for a Play Analysis Class I took in Red Deer College. It also happened to be the premier of Meiko Ouchi’s play The Dada Play.
Two exiles meet in the café in Zurich. One is a German conscientious object and little known writer Hugo Ball. The other is a Russian radical social philosopher named Vladimir Ilytch Lenin. For those who slept through Social Studies class (and/or aren’t art historians), these men would each begin a revolution that would change the world. Lenin would eventually leave Zurich with his wife and become the leader of the Communist Revolution in Russia. Hugo Ball, along with a group of family, friends and avant-garde artist and would begin the art (or anti-art) movement known as Dada. Such is the story of Meiko Ouchi’s The Dada Play. Of course, not everybody knows what Dada means. In the second act, the actors explain the meaning of Dada in different languages. The Dada in the title is a whimsical and anarchic movement that seeks to challenge audiences, protest against bourgeois society and religion and reshape art. It made no sense and it did not intend to. It was briefbut it was the beginning of surrealist art.
It is also a love story between Hugo Ball (Darren Paul) and Emmy Hennings (Whitney Grace). They are brought together by the craze of Dada. SPOILER ALERT: But once Dada’s fame declines, Hugo is tragically broken and disappears. He is found in a mental institution, eventually taken back by the love of his life. SPOILER OVER. Mieko Ouchi manages to follow their story amongst the Dada movement just like how Warren Beatty follows the relationship of American communist John Reed and feminist writer Louise Bryant amidst the Russian Revolution in Reds.
Before the curtains go up, the actors, dressed in white, wait on stage while their director reminds them that “He is not running a summer camp. Once they get their script, the real fun begins. Writer Mieko Ouchi and director Lynda Adams do an excellent job of bringing an unconventional mood of Dada. They make fun of the structure of conventional theatre. An actor breaks character and is murdered on stage by the narcissistic director (hilariously played by Paul Boultbee). One of Lenin’s (also Boultbee) speeches is interrupted by a coffee break and Lenin gets into an argument with the writer (Chantel Quintal). One thing that is pretty amazing about this play is how Mieko follows the story of Lenin, Ball and their revolutions within this warzone of anarchy. Of course this insanity might be confusing for some audience members.
The play is filled with excellent performances. Paul Boultbee does a great job of playing two contrasting characters; communist leader Lenin and the tyrannical Director. With a pitch perfect accent, Boultbee goes beyond imitation and delivers the passion and beliefs of the man himself. His speeches are so real and passionate that even Joe McCarthy would route for this guy. The director, in contrast is narcissistic and dictatorial and it’s a scream. Boultbee reveals the magnificent range going in between Lenin and a guy he would want to punch in the face.
Of course, there is Darren Paul as Ball. Paul accomplishes the task of leading the play, taking the character from a German conscientious objector to the leader of the dada movement to a broken man living in an insane asylum. He nails with the needed passion. Grace is equally good capturing the same love Hennings had and her empathy as she watches her love fall apart.
And then there are the minor actors. They play off their world quite well. They go from mental inmates to poets to dancers to visual artists and back to mental inmates. They all seem equally insane, but each in their own way.
The world of the play becomes a part of Dada: unconventional by creative. First let’s discuss the setting created by Calum Smith, Ashley Honeker, Shawn Waston and Jasmine Usselman. The insane asylum scenes leave plenty of space so the lunatics have room to play off of. The Cabaret Voltaire is filled with bright lights and colour and built with pieces of garbage; a perfect image of Dada. Lenin and Ball’s speeches are set in a factory of junk amongst a group of soldiers.
There is the interesting use of various props in different scenes. In the asylum scene a ladder is set in a way to make it look like a long hallway. IN the café, Hugo uses the ladder for his speeches on Dada. There is also a use of the lighting, compliments of Breta Gerecke. Most noticeable is the light bulbs hung on wires. In the asylum, the lights are dim in order to further the effect of Hugo’s broken state. Then they are bright and colourful in the Cabaret Voltaire. In the end, all lights disappear, except one that Hugo swings back and forth; leaving a strangely mystifying image that is unforgettable.
In the Cabaret Voltaire, Tristan Tzara enters with a very bizarre costume, complete with a little double entendre depending on how immature you are. The crazy costumes are provided by Carrie Hamilton. There is also the costume Ball wears in the end of Dada. When the Cabaret Voltaire is shut down, Hugo is dressed like a tin pole. I really have no idea why he is dressed like this, but then again it’s probably not supposed to make sense. That is the point of Dada.
 In French, it means Hobby Horse
 It even seeps into poetry, which leads to the funniest line in the play;
My fart was smelt so foul
The moonlight shines its brightest
 To be honest, I don’t quite get the significance of doing that. I have to admit, it is tempting to bat a dangling lightbulb.