A whisper of humanity
World premiere fails to move
by Jim Murchison
There is an added air of anticipation on the opening night of a World Premiere. You can feel equal amounts of excitement and anxiety in the air. Everyone is hoping for a new masterpiece; a hit that will turn the theatre community on its ear. Unfortunately we didn’t get that last night.
From the moment the actors enter the stage in Whispering Pines there is a sense that they have been told they have something very important to say.
Much of the play takes place in Berlin in 1987 with the wall still dividing the city. A painter, Renate (Tracey Ferencz) and singer (poet) Bruno (Paul Rainville) are artists and idealists who want to make a new world. Thomas (Chris Joseph) is a Canadian academic who wants to write about art and socialism, so he arrives in Berlin with bribes of liquor and cigarettes to lure out a story. The rest of the play occurs years later, in a peaceful cabin on the shores of Lake Superior, where the three characters wash their dirty linen together and try to make sense of their former German lives and current Canadian lives.
When I was a theatre student many years ago we were doing a play by Bertolt Brecht called The Good Woman of Setzuan and the director asked us, “What do you want this play to do to people?” One of my classmates said, “Teach them about humanity”. Another one said, “Make them think about the cruelty and injustice of the world.” It carried on like this for a couple of more moments and we were running out of lofty goals when it was my turn, so I blurted out, “Entertain them?” Our director smiled and said, “Exactly! That’s it.” I was very pleased that I had hit upon what she felt was important, and acted nonchalant and wise. I had hit upon the right answer entirely by accident and desperation. Much later, after sitting through many heavy handed productions of Brecht and Chekhov I understood how right she was.
They are so self absorbed, that by the time I realised that they were real people with their own needs and desires, I had lost interest.
From the moment the actors enter the stage in Whispering Pines there is a sense that they have been told they have something very important to say. Often two actors will freeze in tableau, while the third engages the audience in the ever so important aside. Then they break out of it and all three discuss grand ideas of socialism and art. They are so self absorbed, that by the time I realised that they were real people with their own needs and desires, I had lost interest.
The direction, by GCTC former Associate Artistic Director, Brian Quirt is heavy handed.
Most of the blame I think rests in Richard Sanger’s script, which leaps into concepts before it introduces us to them or develops the characters. It also uses the convention of circling around an idea and coming back to the same moment in time; repeating the same scene from an alternate perspective. I’ve seen this done before and when done extremely well, it is very effective. When it doesn’t work, the play is fractured and diffused. The intent in this production might have been to create some grand mosaic to make the audience gasp. It came out as dull pebbles dropping on the floor, not sharp enough to dig in and make you cry and not soft enough to tickle you and make you laugh either.
The direction, by GCTC former Associate Artistic Director, Brian Quirt is heavy handed. The actors do a great deal of talking at the audience rather than to them. In an effort to create an atmosphere of espionage and betrayal, the discourse emanates from two microphones placed in ever changing positions on the stage. It didn’t work.
Written by Governor General Award nominee, Richard Sanger
Lighting design for is by Beth Kates,
Set and costume design by Brian Smith
Kates and Smith co-designed the projections used during the production
A special event in partnership with the German Embassy, called Whispering Pints, immediately after the production.
With: Tracey Ferencz (The List), Kris Joseph (Facts), and Paul Rainville (Heroes – Les Prix Rideau Awards & Capital Critics’ Circle Award Winner).