A Test of the Spectator
Mixed feelings about Company Theatre's offering
by Beat Rice
The English translation of Lukas Barfuss’ play The Test, premiered this week at the Berkeley Theatre. Presented by the Company Theatre in partnership with Canadian Stage, The Test featured a stellar cast of Eric Peterson, Sonja Smits, Gord Rand, Liisa Repo-Martell and Phillip Riccio. The play was translated by Birgit Schreyer Duarte and directed by Jason Bryne.
Barfuss’ sharp writing and Duarte’s translation, combined with Byrne’s direction create a world that is so real yet so strange, we don’t want to get too close. What starts off as the sheer need to know the paternity of one’s offspring creates a series of events with a tragic ending.
Byrne does an excellent job in keeping a balance of normal and real with the irregular and dramatic.
The text for each character is slightly unnatural and is almost off-putting, but the acting and directing come together in a way that makes it accessible yet still funny. The beginning of the first act is a bit slow but it does pick up. Liisa Repo-Martell brings a unique energy to her character, Agnus, making her a truly engaging performer to watch. Philip Riccio plays the assistant, Franzeck, to hopeful political Eric Peterson, in the role of Simon Korach. Both characters are desperate but the actors do not play desperation, which is refreshing. Byrne does an excellent job in keeping a balance of normal and real with the irregular and dramatic. The second act moves quicker than the first; it's where the past catches up to haunt the present for some characters.
One enjoyable aspect of the play is how we see the breaking point of each character.
Barfuss introduces the characters and gives us just enough information about them for us to piece together the complications of each person. They all want what most regular people want in life - success, a change in politics, a family, somebody to love, somebody to love them - but their means in which to achieve those goals are not normal. They are incredibly hard to read, and extremely layered. One enjoyable aspect of the play is how we see the breaking point of each character.
Some excellent choices were made for sound, designed by Richard Feren. Transitions grew in volume until our seats were vibrating. Classical piano sonatas tinkled in the background for most scenes creating a surreal ambience. The set, designed by John Thompson, (who also did the lighting and costume design) was a modern European apartment, straight lines, clean surfaces, and minimalist. The white floor reflected the bright white top light illuminating the house making us feel like we were sitting in their living room.
The Test is one dark comedy that shows us characters with disturbing issues but does not present them in an overbearing way. There is comedy, there is drama, but this play is not for everyone.