Pants On Fire

"I'M HERE TO tell you something that you don't already know," confesses Henry, the lone, gawky, chatty, pathetic, hilarious, and often hysterical anti-hero of Da Da Kamera's solo tour de force, Here Lies Henry. Alone on a barren stage, Henry has exactly 74 minutes to come up with the goods, 74 minutes to divert you with the details of his life story, reinterpretations of biblical tales, parables about Hope, Beauty, and Truth, even a bit of kick-line dancing, before the disclosure of the great unknown. Problem is, Henry is a liar--a chronic, irrepressible, pathological one. He lies whenever he opens his mouth, or so he tells us. And, with this, the Toronto-based performing troupe Da Da Kamera accomplishes the difficult task of bringing a junior-high logic riddle to a life on stage.

Daniel MacIvor, who wrote the show and plays Henry with brilliant abandon, seems to relish the mystery of the character and the initial befuddlement of the audience. For the first 10 minutes, a bewildered Henry emerges from the dark, shifting from foot to foot, fidgeting with his belt, and cracking mediocre jokes with forgotten punch lines: "How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Why are fire engines red?" Nervous laughter trickles in from the periphery of the house; is the Walker--or whoever programmed this seeming nonevent--off its rocker?

"Here Lies Henry is about the nature of what is true and what isn't," explains MacIvor, casting his creation as a muddy launching point into remote, existential territory. "For me as an actor, this starts at the most basic level with the question 'Who am I on stage?' When I was in acting school, I learned one thing, and I learned it in a single afternoon. I had just done a scene, and the teacher asked me about my response to it. I said that I didn't really feel like I had been in character. My teacher went ballistic. There is no character, he said. There's only you. That really struck a chord in me."

MacIvor, his director Daniel Brooks, and a group of collaborators constitute Da Da Kamera, whose bizarre moniker disguises the group's creative philosophy. In their Russo-Latin translation, the words mean "Yes yes to the small room," which, as MacIvor explains, is an homage to small theaters and the intimate theatrical experience. "When the company was first formed," he says, "we performed for smaller groups. We still do, but we also perform in 300- and 450-seat houses. The rooms are getting bigger, but the intention is always to create a private experience. A huge part of what we are trying to do is being in the room. Trying to use the comfortable distance of the fourth wall, as well as smashing through it to create a relationship."

It's a relationship that, in this production, only takes firm shape with time. Henry's missing punch lines make a prominent appearance in the second half of Here Lies Henry; as the play unfolds with unexpected, baroque complexity, the premise of Henry's presence in the room builds to a stunning blackout.

The Walker, it turns out, isn't off its rocker. CP

Here Lies Henry plays January 29-31 at 8 p.m. at the Southern Theater; call 375-7622.

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