Saturday, November 12, 2011

Review: (Ottawa) And Slowly Beauty...

Celine Stubel, Caroline Gillis, Mary-Colin Chisholm, Dennis Fitzgerald
(photo credit: David Cooper)

And slowly perfect...
Belfry/NAC co-pro stuns
by Jim Murchison

Last night, with the translator and the writer in attendance, the National Arts Centre launched their Studio season with And Slowly Beauty, fresh from a heralded run at the Belfry Theatre in Victoria. The praise is well founded.

Maureen Labonté’s translation of Michel Nadeau’s beautiful piece breathes with vital characters. It weaves the lives of real people with the characters in Anton Chekhov’s The Three Sisters skillfully. It is respectful to Chekhov without stooping to idol worshipping. This play grabs you equally by your heart and your funny bone and pulls you in for a deep, satisfying kiss. If it’s your first play it is probably the beginning of a long love affair. If you are a regular patron of the theatre, you will welcome the embrace of a long time love. It is a brave undertaking to perform a play that is about how beautiful and transformative theatre can be. If the play works it’s a poignant example of art, imitating art, imitating life. If the play doesn’t work it can be embarrassing and pretentious; as well as tedious and uncomfortable for the audience and the cast. 

...Michael Shamata’s crisp, precise choreography...

Seldom will you see a production that marries all the elements of design and performance as effectively and beautifully as And Slowly Beauty. John Ferguson’s design; Michael Walton’s lighting and Brooke Maxwell’s sound design merge seamlessly to help create clever theatrical illusions. The aluminum and glass framework is a home, a coffee shop, an office building and a theatre. The corridor in between the inside and outside world is at times a crowded subway car, a private office or even a passageway to the hereafter. Six actors execute Michael Shamata’s crisp, precise choreography in a way that make it seem like there are a thousand faceless people struggling past each other to make it into the daily drudgery of the corporation.

The play is about Mr. Mann, played brilliantly by Dennis Fitzgerald. Mann is frustrated by the incessant restructuring at work and the loneliness he feels at home. His children are preparing to embark on their own life adventures and his wife frets over her real estate career. His evening plans are usually dictated by a series of post-it notes he follows like a bread crumb trail that leads to his TV remote. He decides to do something for a change and use the free tickets he won at work to see Anton Chekov’s The Three Sisters

He laughs, cries, struggles but mostly he lives his life a little deeper.

From that moment on, Mann starts examining everything about his life: dreams, disappointments, existence itself, death, fidelity, and mostly love. He laughs, cries, struggles but mostly he lives his life a little deeper. Mann tries to explain the effect the play had on him to his wife, Claudette (Caroline Gillis) and she tells him it sounds boring. He agrees, but tells her, “It’s the way they do it!”  

The play also features Mary-Colin Chisolm, Caroline Gillis, Christian Murray, Thomas Olajide and Celine Stubel. They play a great many roles very well and execute complex cues perfectly and yet they never seem mechanical, except when it is hilariously designed that way. It is difficult to properly do justice in a few words to such a fine and balanced ensemble. Ottawa is very privileged to have a resident company that will get to work and grow with each other. It makes this season all the more exciting. In a nice little twist of art imitating life, one of Celine Stubel’s fondest theatrical memories was co-starring in My Three Sisters with her actual sisters. I am sure that this play will be another one.

How much does art impact on the lives of people? Does it really change your life? I don't know. Everyone without exception has had an emotional connection with something, be it a painting, a song, a film or a play. Whether or not And Slowly Beauty... changes your life is up for you to decide, but it most definitely should enrich it.

And Slowly Beauty... is at the NAC to November 19

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