Thursday, March 28, 2013

Review: (Ottawa) False Assumptions

False Assumptions Glows Dimly
by Jim Murchison

The set for False Assumptions designed by Attila Clemman is quite wonderful. It immediately evokes the feeling of being in a place cluttered with learning and rich in thought. Suspended from the ceiling are glowing, curled and folded notes that seem like origami of the gods. In fact the raised upstage area is a platform for a Greek chorus of underrated women of science. Downstage left is the study where Marie and Pierre do their work. Directly stage right is a multifunctional area where we meet many friends of Marie and where we most often see a group of early victims of science called the radium girls. 

There were a great many friends of theatre and learning at the Gladstone lending support to the students of Ottawa Theatre School in particular and to director Teri Loretto-Valentik and the hard working production team. Many were also excited to be at a world premiere of a brand new play by Lawrence Aronovitch that combined his passion for science and theatre. 

Now about that chorus

Hannah Gibson-Fraser played a very human Madame Curie and I thought that the way she aged was done with considerable subtlety and skill. Nick Fournier was a very quietly strong, confident Pierre Curie. Alison Rainer was very good in her role as Grace Fryer the radium girl and as the neglected wife Jeanne.

Now about that chorus; the three scientists on the upstage elevated area. They are not really a chorus in the traditional sense, more like a coffee clutch of ghosts that offer opinion on the slights placed on inventive and intelligent women through the ages and they also speculate on romance. The three actresses Karina Milech, Alexis Scott and Holly Griffith play the roles quite well, but I am not sure that the literary invention of this holy scientific trinity doesn't detract more than support the play. There may be three good plays here, as each of these women is a story unto themselves. 

Ada Lovelace, for example was the inventor of the analytical engine and the only legitimate child of Lord Byron. Hypatia of Alexandria and Rosalind Franklin had equally compelling lives and deaths. Aronavitch even has the women playfully bicker about their own accomplishments. 

While the action bounces back and forth it seems to diffuse the focus. As the audience attention wavered it appeared some of the performers were having difficulty maintaining their concentration as well. By the end of the evening the applause was polite but you felt that we hadn't learned enough about Marie and we felt cheated that we only slightly met the other characters.  

Certainly the writing isn't bad, although the play and performance didn't hit full potential. In the same way that Pierre and Marie delve into the pitch blend searching for that one speck that grows brighter than all the others, the play has to discover that key element that will make it burn bright and give it that extra focus.   

Approximately 2 hours with one intermission
False Assumptions runs until March 30

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