Saturday, March 24, 2012

Review: (Ottawa) East of Berlin

Simon Bradshaw on stairs (photo credit - GCTC/Andrew Alexander)

The Walled City
GCTC offers a work which is mysterious, thought-provoking and layered
by Jim Murchison

Before the play starts, as you enter the theatre there is a sense of ominous mystery and foreboding. An iron stairwell winds down from somewhere stage right. Wooden crates are stacked everywhere. An unused stone fireplace centre stage is filled with luggage. There are several light fixtures but not a single shade. All the light bulbs are bare and exposed. Black metal poles jut out from various angles, looking like God has been playing pickup sticks in a bomb shelter and at any moment all could collapse. Light spills through grates creating horizontal shadows that imply we are peering through blinds into some secret forbidden place.  
Set designer Ivo Valentik and lighting designer Martin Conboy have created an atmosphere that almost creates a living breathing character. The set and lighting implies we are going to see something mysterious, thought provoking and layered; and we do.  

With us he is free to tell everything and let his secrets be exposed.
Ottawa’s Hannah Moscovitch has written a piece that examines the generational struggle to cope with historical legacy and how it impacts on life and relationships. By writing a piece that doesn’t have villains or heroes and that boldly uses humour, she is able to fully engage the audience with a work that resonates more profoundly.  
The first person we meet is Rudy, smoking at the top of the staircase at his father’s Paraguayan home. Simon Bradshaw plays Rudy with a little bit of edginess and a great deal of charm. The audience is his therapist. With us he is free to tell everything and let his secrets be exposed. Bradshaw never talks at the audience, always directly to us. 
Much of what Rudy learns about his father’s Nazi past is from his friend Hermann. Pierre Antoine Lafon Simard plays the intellectual misfit Hermann with a social clumsiness that totally befits the character. He accidentally blurts out that Rudy’s father was an SS Nazi doctor and that starts Rudy’s journey of discovery. Hermann has a brief affair with Rudy and he falls hopelessly in love.  
When Rudy goes to Germany it’s as much to escape Paraguay and Hermann as to find answers. He unexpectedly finds love with a Jewish girl searching for answers to her mother's past at Auschwitz.   
Catherine Boutin, in her professional acting debut, plays Sarah. It is a strong performance of a strong character and a debut to be proud of. In a less complete story, love would conquer all and that would be the end of it, but this is not a fairy tale and Sarah is not an ingenue.
Joël Beddows has allowed his actors to tell their story without using any tricks or exaggeration. He respects the writer’s story and allows her humour to come through. Too often when the subject matter in a play is serious, a production becomes weighed down by its own self-importance. That doesn’t happen here because everyone involved understands that lightness and humour can spring out of darkness.  
The true pathos of a person’s hopeless situation comes through more powerfully when we are allowed to see the full scope of their humanity. It is  a pleasure to see a production that has such a fine sense of balance and a deft touch. 

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