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TRAVEL & ENTERTAINMENT: “Needles and Opium” is a truly visual masterpiece

Apr 07, 2017
by Phil Zarri
Featuring a unique and mesmerizing rotating, three-dimensional cube hovering above the Geary Theatre stage in San Francisco, the American Conservatory Theater, through visionary director Robert Lepage, presents “Needles and Opium,” a brilliant collision of digital wizardry, acrobatic choreography and traditional stagecraft, perhaps not seen before. Through the lives of two brilliant but troubled icons – Parisian filmmaker Jean Cocteau and American jazz legend Miles Davis - “Needles and Opium” offers a series of hypnotic vignettes that explore the complex relationship between art, addiction, and heartache. As the cube revolves, their tales interweave in a swirl of video projections and jazz. Lepage fuses magical stagecraft and visual storytelling into a rather unique theatrical experience that audiences are certain to enjoy.

The huge cube is elevated a few feet above the stage with three of its sides walled and three open. It slowly rotates to create a seemingly endless array of configurations. The visual palette of the scene is filled by image designs and videos which are projected onto the three walls of the cube throughout the entire production, as time and place evolve through interconnected stories that flow into each other.

While the entire production sounds a bit complex, the resulting effect is actually very fluid. The cube shifts and rotates, creating perspectives the audience probably isn’t used to viewing. Then, all of a sudden, the audience is looking at the scene from above. The projections allow scenes to blend into one another. The overall effect is visually striking and very cinematic.

The story weaves between three parallel narratives and invites the audience to draw its own comparisons and conclusions. First, the audience meets poet/filmmaker Jean Cocteau on a plane ride over the Atlantic as he flies back from his first visit to New York City in 1949. At the same time, American jazz legend Miles Davis is seen during his first trip to Paris. Fast-forward to present times and the audience meets a Quebecois theatre artist in his hotel room in Paris as he deals with his heartbreak after recently ending a long-term relationship. The three stories center on the themes of addiction and withdrawal. Cocteau was addicted to opium, Davis to heroine, and the Quebecois to love.

“Needles and Opium” features Olivier Normand as Jean Cocteau and Wellesley Robertson III as Miles Davis. Both of these critically acclaimed actors performed these same roles in Europe.

Overall, the effects of “Needles and Opium” are stunning. Without question the show is a true visual masterpiece not to be missed.

“Needles and Opium” is currently playing at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater (415 Geary St.) in San Francisco through April 23. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission. For tickets or more information please phone (415) 749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org.


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