Friday, February 28, 2014

Review: (Toronto / Theatre) A Beautiful View

A Beautiful View, but it lacks an uglier side
by joel fishbane

A new production of Daniel MacIvor’s A Beautiful View has blown into Toronto and it has brought with it some admirable talent. The two-decade old Volcano Theatre has paired improv performer Becky Johnson with veteran NTS graduate Amy Rutherford to explore MacIvor’s drama about two women whose inability to put a convenient label on their unique friendship leads to conflict and complication. The result is a unique mix that, while entertaining, only occasionally illuminates MacIvor’s text.

Two unnamed women (Johnson and Rutherford) reunite to tell us the story of their relationship through re-enactment, monologue and commentary – often they break out of a scene to make remarks on what’s just occurred or defend their actions to the audience. It’s a fascinating theatrical technique but this production, directed by Ross Manson, seems uninterested in exploring it. Instead, Manson seems more focused on adding movement and physicality to the play as a way of exploring, presumably, the inner lives of the play’s two enigmatic characters.

This split between the playwright’s intentions and the director’s makes for an uneven production and there’s a sense that the play MacIvor wrote is not the play Manson wants to direct. Nonetheless, he’s blessed with two charismatic actors who always command our attention. As the quirkier part of the duo, Becky Johnson is lively and dynamic. She’s a sharp parallel to Amy Rutherford, who is quieter and more withdrawn. “You’re my better self,” Rutherford says to Johnson early in the play and it’s clear that this is the case: as in most love stories (which is what this play is), the characters are drawn to each other because each has what the other lacks.

The minimalist design by Manson and Felix Leicher (set), Rebecca Picherack (Lights) and Michael Laird (sound) serve MacIvor’s text well, allowing for swift transitions between scenes and effectively helping us navigate the shifts between perspective. In one scene located in an airport, the characters keep stepping out of the scene to comment on it; both lights and sound shift deftly with the actors, allowing us to follow these rapid changes. 

Still, MacIvor’s text never quite goes for the jugular – it never quite manages to draw blood. Manson’s direction doesn’t quite draw blood either: even when Rutherford and Johnson fight, nothing much ever seems to really be at stake. This is unfortunate as there’s real drama to be had in the story of two women whose refusal to label their relationship leads to real heartache for both of them. 

The team are adept at playing the subtext of this conflict but the dramatic tension would need to be raised for the play to reach truly spectacular heights. As is, this is a pleasant production of an ultimately pleasant story: even the twist at the end can’t take away from the fact that this is a 'nice' play that stays away from the uglier side of human interaction. 

Feb. 27 - Mar. 9

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