JIMMY
The Pit, London EC2
Opened 23 June, 2004
***

In the hands of many another actor, Jimmy might have turned out to be "showcase therapy", a flashy but hollow piece created to highlight the performer's skills and help them deal with some rooted personal issue. Marie Brassard kept a dream diary for two years before constructing a 70-minute piece out of images from and suggested by those dreams; she dwells on matters of identity, contingency and artifice; she does it all in a tiny playing area perhaps six feet by four, as if in the corner or a closet off some room where the real business of existence goes on.

Brassard's piece, though, is anything but sterile and self-serving. As might be expected from a frequent collaborator of Robert Lepage's, she is interested in image, story and adventurous presentation. The play's absence of ultimate focus can be ascribed simply to the surrealism of dream, as she and Jimmy follow the shifting images and relationships.

Jimmy is a gay New York hairdresser who first appeared in an American general's dream in 1950 and was then suspended in limbo for 50 years until he began to be dreamed anew by "an actress" Brassard herself, we infer. Sometimes he morphs into someone else: his childhood self, the actress's mother, even Yves Montand. All the while he is forced to follow the dreamer's script, despite possessing thoughts and desires of his own. The suggestion is that much of our waking and emotional lives are similarly spent in thrall to others, but it's never hammered home with psychobabble, simply allowed to percolate.

With her mane of black hair, ethnically unspecific features and androgynous build, Brassard is already well equipped to switch between personae and genders. What takes things a fascinating step further is the small microphone she wears, which allows her amplified voice to be pitch-shifted anywhere from a childish peal to Jimmy's resonant baritone. Sometimes there is almost no physical movement as one character slides into another; it's all done with sound manipulation and vocal delivery. At one point the mic appears to cut out altogether, leaving the actress unexpectedly naked before us, so to speak.

+Jimmy+, like its protagonist, never quite reaches a destination; the dream simply fades out, leaving us, like him, in suspension. But, also like a dream, it has moments and fragments that continue to haunt.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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