Review: The Archive of Missing Things

Zuppa Theatre's poignant interactive show debuts at Eastern Front Theatre's STAGES Festival.

click to enlarge NED ZIMMERMAN
Ned Zimmerman

A shroud of mystery surrounds Zuppa’s latest theatrical foray. Not so much a play as an interactive game, The Archive of Missing Things is experienced alone at a computer in Dalhousie’s Killam Library.

The library is open during the show, so students walk around, as do the actors. We are told many times by a voice in our headset to always be looking for clues. The show is a mystery to be solved, after all. The objective is to find the heart of the archive, and for 90 minutes a meditative soundscape plays through our headset while participants navigate the archive website, a smorgasbord of poignant anecdotes and factoids, its tone seeped in nostalgia for things lost to the past.

What might be a passive experience is activated through the central mystery driving the performance. But having a big reveal that may or not be reached by many participants is a risky move, and the show’s game aspect of working against the clock sometimes feels out of sync with the more contemplative tone of the piece. There is a difficult balance to strike of having the audience move quickly through the archive while also letting the fragments of a larger story sink in, and the show can lean too much on its quest at the expense of the beautifully rendered story it is packaged in.

The moments of the show that feel the most alive are those spent eavesdropping on conversations in the library atrium. With live microphones on the actors, the audience can peer down and listen in on the private conversation of strangers, their dialogue providing clues in navigating the archive to its deepest levels. But in what feels like a lost opportunity, who these characters are is not made entirely clear or important. The dialogue is quirky and smart, but feels mostly incidental to the story.

The Archive of Missing Things is commendable for its ambition and bold vision, and is unsurprisingly executed with great care and attention by the Zuppa team. But even those who make it to the heart of the archive may find that something else is missing.

Written and Created by Zuppa Theatre Co. with Kate Cayley
Directed by Alex McLean
Dunn Theatre, Dalhousie University
May 15-27

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