To start, I will always have a soft spot for weirdness. If something is masterfully beautiful in presentation but mediocre in meaning, I don’t care. But if something is bizarre and dreadful, I will always prefer the latter. Thankfully, hollow mountain by Rock Bottom Movement is both bizarre and brilliant. The company coming from Toronto and currently on stage at Centaur Theatre as part of their Wildside Theatre Festival, hollow mountain is a wonderfully weird breath of fresh air in the current theatre climate. Not that the current theatre climate is exceptionally lacking, but this show offers a beautiful strangeness that doesn’t often rear its head.
hollow mountain is an absurdist journey of five friends filled with hilarious and human happenings (roughly revolving around the haunting of a dead girl named Lulu) throughout the titular hollow mountain. Simple songs are sung that tell much of the situation as the actors’ maneuver around the stage We’re treated to a myriad of disjointed moments that weave together to form more of an atmosphere and feeling than a straightforward narrative, playing much to the strength of the absurd roots. It is a multi-disciplinary work, combining dance/movement, theatre, and live music. And there are a great number of modern shows that do this- but each element is so integrally joined together that there is no halting or wavering between one and the other; they are the uniform pulse of this show.
The design elements of the show are understated and highly effective. The setting for the hollow mountain vastly differs from Centaur Theatre’s other recent mountain space, composed of a vast and well-strung sheet enclosing much of the space, both leering and gentle. The costuming is uniform, and oddly timeless, each of the performers wearing white briefs, a grey hoodie, a wife beater with a glimmering red splatter over the heart, and a jarring red around their eyes. The choice of acoustic instrumentation, as well as the lack of recording sound, pair perfectly with the other visual elements but also serve to amplify the creepy yet jovial atmosphere of this dark mountain romp.
All of the performers serve the work astonishingly. Each of them has explosive oddities regularly throughout the show that they can all at once reel into an intimate moment of hilarious absurdity. The choreography is both clumsy and precise, raucous and contained, spastic and subtle- and filled to the brim with a wide-eyed fear that keeps you laughing and on-edge throughout the performance. Sydney Herauf, who created the music and performs much of it, is often set apart from the group slightly with an instrument in hand, but never feels separate from the unit. Rather, her positioning often gives the sense of anchor to the ever-flowing and jerking bodies. Each performer holds such beauty and humour in every isolated moment of the play, and it is clear how much love went into this. The emotions of the characters are huge and serious, but the work is always playful and captivating.
It is hard to compare hollow mountain to many theatrical works I’ve experienced. Shows that are inter-disciplinary or sketch-based or absurdist or boundary-pushing all come to mind, but none feel like they’re akin enough. What my mind kept going to was the feeling of a concept album- not a narrative-heavy rock opera, but a series of individual pieces all concocted and brought together under the same conceptual umbrella. It feels like the music of Tom Waits with lyrics by Ween (particularly the enthralling repetition of the lyrics “And the ocean burnt down”) set to a late-night Cartoon Network show, with all of the weird and delightful heart that comes from each of those things. And you would think that all of this would lend to a much messier affair, but this show and all of its raw, curiously shaped parts are so easy to take hold of.
hollow mountain by Rock Bottom Movement is a masterclass in the bravely absurd. There’s gyrating. There’s screaming. There’s sweet music. There’s blood. There’s nudity. And there’s hope. And that is the greatest gift that the work gives us- as all good absurdities should. If you get the chance to see this, make every effort. Some may not follow the piece and think it nonsense- and a lot of it is- but that nonsense teaches us more about our sense than we know.