If there is a theatrical equivalent of what they used to call "head films" – that is, movies best enjoyed while on mind-altering drugs – then it would be Marie Brassard's Me Talking to Myself in the Future. Far be it from me to encourage the use of illegal substances, but I suspect Brassard's hypnotic, semi-comprehensible show best be appreciated while tripping out on some kind of hallucinogenic.
I don't think Brassard would argue otherwise. After all, in the course of this 70-minute techno-theatre piece, the Québécoise performance artist juxtaposes fond teenage memories of getting high in clubs with an imagined future as a dying old lady hooked on morphine.
This is Brassard's first visit to Buddies in Bad Times since she brought her haunting solo Jimmy back in 2005, and also marks one of her rare tours to Toronto. She and her Montreal company, Infrarouge, were last in town for the 2008 Luminato Festival, where they presented The Glass Eye, a one-man show Brassard co-wrote and directed for Louis Negin. I suspect Brassard is still better known to local audiences as one of Robert Lepage's principal collaborators, performing and/or co-writing The Dragons' Trilogy, Polygraph and The Geometry of Miracles, but the two parted ways at the end of the 1990s. Since then, she has taken a less worldly, more avant-garde route than Lepage, with intimate but tech-heavy performances closer in spirit to the work of Laurie Anderson.
Me Talking to Myself, which made its debut in 2010, artfully blends ambient music, abstract film and vocal effects in a collage of memories and speculations. The black-haired Brassard, clad in short black dress and black boots, is at her most charming and coherent when conjuring up her childhood in Trois-Rivières. As a kid, she and her friends create haunted houses and take turns scaring one another; as adolescents in a small town "where ambitions quickly degenerate," they escape the boredom with music and drugs.
Things get murkier, however, when Brassard leads us into her dreams. In one, she glances into a pool of her own blood and confronts her elderly future self – hence the show's title. The future Marie, meanwhile, is visited in the night by Morpheus, the god of dreams and sleep, and the etymological root of "morphine." When she becomes old Marie or the male Morpheus, the actress's voice is digitally altered.
Brassard's musings on past and future also stretch back to the origin of species – she weaves her own whimsical creation myth involving dancing sea creatures – and forward to a colourful vision of a new world to come. It's a bit disconcerting, though, when Brassard briefly breaks the spell to admit, "I am telling a story that makes no sense."
That must be our cue to stop trying to figure out what she's saying and just let the show wash over us. It's easy to do, since Brassard and her collaborators whip up such a potent audio-visual cocktail. Musician-composers Jonathan Parant and Alexandre St-One, flanking Brassard, build layers of vibrant, pulsing textures with keyboards, bass and wordless vocals. Behind her on a huge screen, grainy monochrome images and scratched celluloid by filmmaker Karl Lemieux form a fluid canvas. Mikko Hynninen's lighting transforms plastic tubing that snakes across the surface of the stage into a luminous pathway almost as labyrinthine as Brassard's thoughts.
When she eventually abandons her English text, steps up to a microphone and sings passionately in French, Brassard gets closest to communicating her transcendent feelings as a druggy, music-loving teen dancing in front of a club's loudspeakers. Now all she needs to do is hand out tabs of LSD at the door.