The Mystery of Mr. Leftovers

 
 
The Mystery of Mr. Leftovers: A Desperate Plea for Companionship and Love
Choreographed, written and directed by Sharon B. Moore
Performed by Jillian Peever
Dramaturgy and sound by Derek Aasland
Produced by Jillian Peever Dance Creations & Cinetic Creations
Winchester Street Theatre, Toronto
February 25-27 2016 
 
REVIEWED BY BEVERLEY DAURIO
 
The large black stage is simply lit, and strewn with things that could have washed up onto a beach after a shipwreck, including oars, a wooden chair.....
 
Blackout.
 
The sounds of waves, wind, lightning cracks and rolling thunder surround us. Plain light floods the stage, and Jillian Peever, as Mr. Leftovers, appears.
 
Subtitled A Desperate Plea for Companionship and Love, The Mystery of Mr. Leftovers is the solo dance/theatre autobiography of a man who has worked in many areas and worn many hats. Sharon Moore's text and choreography plunge us instantly into the centre of Mr. Leftovers' world and life, as he opens up the wrecked treasure box of his memories for us. "I'm scarr-rr-rred!" Jillian Peever exclaims, then, "I'm not scarred!"
 
Mr. Leftovers' costume (by Jesse Dell)-- long black pants, black jacket and top hat-- is generic to performers, and alludes to a long tradition that includes magicians, jazz dancers, and Fred Astaire. This historical depth is subtle, quietly present, and subverted by the jaunty addition of a set of wild branches to the top hat-- natural, Canadian, and funny. 
 
A flexible board, about two feet by four feet, accompanies Peever throughout this work, starting out serving as her MC's podium, and in her hands becoming by turns the side of a ship, shelter from flying shrapnel, a carpet, a bed of hot coals to tiptoe across, and more. Peever has a brilliant knack for quickly conjuring up the places and atmospheres demanded by the dramatic moment. Using a wooden chair, oars, some pairs of black boots, a tea set and plastic fish, Peever transforms the space into a prim English parlour, a battlefield, an ocean liner and other settings from Mr. Leftovers' life.
 
Moore's choreography combines influences and memes from a wide variety of movement disciplines. As a dancer, Peever is precise, fluid, powerful, and chimerical, moving smoothly from turns that give a gentle nod to Buster Keaton, to mad skipping about like a joyous whirlwind. From elegant cartoon ballet to macabre impishness, Peever plays this performer-playing-parts with an astonishing range of expressivity. Whether self-pitying confusion, murderous wild-eyed aggression, or acting out madcap anecdotes, Peever embodies Mr. Leftovers with energy and total focus. 
 
The fragments of story that Moore has chosen to construct Mr. Leftovers' life are not driven by purpose, or goals, in the sense of traditional narrative. Peever dances, speaks, crouches, twirls, leaps and lurches wholly emotionally-- as if he were pure Id, or a core child self, innocent, demanding and full of life. The focus of attention is not on the worldly aspects that most often anchor our cultural narratives-- reaching mountaintops, winning races, or catching jewel thieves-- but is rooted in felt, deep, and subconscious meanings and effects. The battlefield scene, for example, has no beginning or end-- it emerges from Mr. Leftovers' consciousness the way memories do. Pairs of black boots become a file of soldiers under Mr. Leftovers' command, diving and dodging bullets and bombs, marching, or taking cover, wondering if they will survive. Then his attention shifts, and his time as a soldier is submerged again into the emotional sea from which it arose.
 
Moore's text is crisp, poetic, elegant and evocative; her painting of character is swift and deep. Here is Mr. Leftovers on his time as a chef: "I was terrible with knives. I was terrible with butter." The work is structured like a surreal biography, but-- a biography of whom? Mr. Leftovers' ambiguous declaration of being both scarred and not scarred is followed by other antinomies: control, no control; rich, poor; scrabbling hard, and living in luxury aboard a ship; and, as Mr. Leftovers says, with a mischievous, loveable grin, describing the distance between performer and audience, "It's me in the light, them in the dark."
 
Is Peever a performer who is excavating parts she has played in the past, parts that add up to this biographical narrative? Conversely, is she playing Mr. Leftovers, former actor and grandson, telling his life story? Or has Moore created a compelling pastiche from characters who just happen to resonate with many strong images from our shared cultural history, from Charlie Chaplin to The Thin Man? As with other works by Moore that I've seen, Mr. Leftovers is an engaging and entertaining show that rewards examination, revealing richness and complexity, as she explores issues of gender, memory, identity, and, in Mr. Leftovers' panoply of different jobs, that interesting taboo of art, work, and its meaning in our lives.
 
The fragments, and miniature stories from Mr. Leftovers' life, have a powerful emotional impact on the viewer, whether Peever is joyously twirling a cane, winking at us over a cup of tea, or tugging Christmas trees on wheels across the stage. These jewel-like short tales imply much larger narratives behind, above, and around what we are seeing.  Grounded and mythological, unique and general, achingly familiar, and yet quirky and peculiar, the character of Mr. Leftovers becomes an appealing, open, raw Spirit of the Theatre. When Peever perches on the wooden chair and leans into the oars to row through an ocean of sound, waves and a storm, it is as if she is rowing across a great, rich, history of stories, and the vast ocean of human consciousness.
 
Derek Aasland's score integrally underpins and complements the cultural architecture of the piece. Opening with a violent storm at sea emphasizes the subconscious implications of this narrative as a journey through time and through turbulence. The soundscape draws on and samples a kaleidoscope of influences and history, from folk songs to Philip Glass to multiple classical music standards, including Bach, Vivaldi, Chopin, and Mozart. 
 
Mr. Leftovers is a collage of radiant intensities, a daring, generous, groundbreaking work, in which dance, text and theatre are equally interdependent, and moving, disturbing and uplifting all at once. Moore liberates and privileges our kinetic selves, and our brightest desires and darker dreams, for a rivetting hour. Mr. Leftovers may be surreal, but he makes perfect sense to our spirits and our hearts.