Wish is extraordinary theatre. It is some of the finest storytelling you are likely to see this year, and it will leave a mark. Adapted by Humphrey Bower from the Peter Goldsworthy novel, Wish tells the story of a man who is asked to teach sign language to a rescued gorilla. This is, of course, a gross oversimplification of matters; the show is a virtual Pandora’s box of ideas, themes and conflicts, and any attempt to list them in the space of a few hundred words would be futile at best.
It’s one of those kinds of shows whose impact says more about you than about the show itself; that is to say, whatever you find most compelling, intriguing or confrontational about the piece could be very different to what the guy in the next seat over does. And it’s likely to offend some, challenge others, and confound a few. But even the skeptics will have trouble faulting Humphrey Bower’s power to draw an engrossing picture in gesture and words.
Bower directs and co-stars in Wish with choreographer and performer Danielle Micich, who plays Eliza, the gorilla. Physically, Micich bears very little resemblance to a gorilla; she’s fair-haired and lithe, although extremely toned and strong. This sometimes makes it difficult to remember that she’s supposed to be playing a barrel-chested, black-haired, 200-pound creature, but Micich’s accurate aping mostly bridges the genetic gap; In the end, it’s not about how much Micich becomes gorilla, but how much this gorilla becomes human through JJ’s eyes (Bower’s character).
Underscoring and sometimes participating in this tale is musician Leon Ewing, who sits just off set with his acoustic guitar. He discretely accompanies the action as does Andrew Lake’s lighting design. The music, lights, movement, Auslan and spoken word come together seamlessly, inextricably, to create an intimate, tender space in which to explore the complexities this show presents.
Bower is a gifted storyteller; he harnesses the musical and rhythmic nature of the spoken word and imbues it with emotional authenticity. We are buoyed along in these uncharted philosophical and emotional waters by his pleasant cadence, his affability, his gentle humour and the endless permutations that his hands and arms convey through Auslan. Although he spends most of the time firmly rooted to his spot centre stage, he holds us firmly rooted with him in the space of the unfolding tale.
Whether or not you are prepared to accept the basic premise that Wish posits, which is that a human male can have an intimate relationship with a female ape, you are bound to be moved in one way or another by this beautifully crafted piece of theatre. This show is an excellent start to the 2014 season for PTC and fully embodies its credo of “creating and presenting a diverse program of contemporary theatrical experiences for adventurous audiences.”