A Canadian theater troupe moves from its early beginnings to wider acclaim over several decades under a charismatic, demanding leader.
It’s Toronto in the mid-1980s, and Rebecca is working as stage manager for a rickety performance of South Pacific. The leading lady, Amanda, gets poor reviews, but that hardly matters, because Amanda brings two things into Rebecca’s life that change the course of it forever. The first is Amanda’s parents, the television and theater impresario Leon Garten and his actress wife, Sylvia, who have cash to burn supporting Amanda’s endeavors. The other is Marlin Lewis, Amanda’s lover and the visionary behind a burgeoning theater company, SenseInSound. Funded by the Gartens, this cutting-edge company practices what Marlin calls “The Work,” a kind of movement-based theater that emphasizes being in “The Now,” regressing to childlike states, and tapping into primal emotions through “Journeys,” group exercises that serve as a platform for Marlin to test the troupe members’ loyalties and their willingness to submit. And as the decades wear on, Rebecca and Amanda must decide how much they are willing to sacrifice for the company they love. Throughout the novel, Meindl (Outside the Box, 2011) keeps the narrative largely with Rebecca, interspersing her perspective with excerpts from archival documents like newspapers and letters that are being collected by an academic studying the history of SenseInSound from the present day. These archival excerpts, with the relief of their critical distance, point to the fact that Meindl means to offer a critique of Marlin and the group’s dynamics, but these portions are so brief, and Rebecca’s obsessional devotion made to seem so heroic, that Meindl’s intentions get muddled.
Fun details from inside the world of experimental theater are tempered by a narrative that never quite comes clear.