Review: Polygraph

Deception and truth probed in metaphysical detective story 

By Lois Maskiell 

In French-Canadian maven of dramatic art Robert Lepage’s metaphysical detective story, truth is interrogated in a seductive narrative. A waiter, a criminologist and an actress are linked by a past murder and in a series of non-chronological events, and their connections to the victim are slowly teased out.

Prolific Australian director, Tanya Gerstle, leads this elegant production of Polygraph which is based on Lepage and Marie Brassard’s internationally staged play as well as the ’96 film of the same title. Re-worked and re-told, Gerstle’s version is intriguing and elusive in its heightened drama and brutal physicality.

Lepage’s playful fusion of unrelated phenomena is made clear from the outset when criminologist, David’s (Grant Cartwright), monologue about blood circulating in the body merges with the words of political science student and waiter, Francois (Lachlan Woods). Francois’ own dialogue is focuses on the Berlin Wall and the flow of traffic between the East and West Germany.

Emily Thomas plays the spontaneous Lucie Champage, a friend and neighbour of the disturbed Francois, whose troubled psyche is suggested in his compulsive fits of cleaning and snorting cocaine. Lucie’s chance encounter with criminologist David develops into an unlikely relationship; her lack of restraint contrasts with his analytical mentality. It’s soon revealed that Lucy has been cast for a movie based on true events and will play murder victim, Marie-Claire, who was a close friend of Francois.

This twist is based on a real-life murder case in Quebec City in which a local actress was raped and killed, and those who knew her (including Lepage) were subjected to polygraph tests. When Francois confesses that he was a prime suspect, he tells of his experience undergoing lie detection. It’s the results of the test – or never knowing them – that have caused his psychological demise.

A powerful scene featuring Lucie in an audition positions the audience voyeuristically as the casting agents. We watch the actress lay bare her emotions at command and Thomas’ metamorphosis from a joyful state to one of terror is astounding. These moments that question the deception and truth of emotions peel back the layers of Lepage’s nonlinear story, where everything is questionable, and nothing can be taken as it first seems.

Set in Quebec City during the ’80s, the actors skillfully juggle a range of accents and languages, including American-English, French and German. While not distinctly French-Canadian, their polished accents succeed in creating an atmosphere of a foreign city and add to the production’s illusory nature.

This superb cast of three perform the hyperrational criminologist, the instinctive actress and troubled waiter with force. Their entangled lives unfold in a disjointed narrative, which is bound not only by their sexual relationships, but also by a murder. Situations emerge like dreams and gaps in the story leave room for the audience to render their own interpretation.

OpticNerve has created a brilliant and elusive murder mystery that leaves you searching for a resolution, or perhaps content without one.

Polygraph is being performed 17 – 29 July at Theatre Works, St Kilda. Tickets can be purchased online and by calling the box office on 03 9534 3388.

Photographs: Pier Carthew