Sunday, February 17, 2013

Review: (Toronto) From the House of Mirth

Laurence Lemieux (photo credit: Paul Antoine Taillefer)
From The House Of Meh
This arranged marriage of opera to dance is a match made in Hell.
by Christian Baines
It has been recently opined on this website – and often accepted as common wisdom elsewhere – that there is no greater crime in showbiz than being boring. No matter how noble, brave, experimental or innovative a piece of art, if the only discernible audience reaction is an audible sigh (or several), the whole enterprise has gone woefully wrong – and not deliciously, wonderfully, ‘this will keep bloggers feasting for weeks’ wrong.
From The House of Mirth is one such show. An ambitious fusion of opera and dance, based upon the 1905 novel by Edith Wharton, it attempts to explore one woman’s rise and fall within the absurdities of 1890’s New York society, through a world in which only men enjoy the privilege of choice, and in this work, narration, delivered through the wonderful vocal work of its four-piece male cast. Their female counterparts carry much of the piece’s dance component, most notably Laurence Lemieux as protagonist, Lily.

With such a skillful cast, we’re left with the distinct wish that more had been done with them. This is a naturally slow moving work, and there are precious few moments within the choreography that snatch our attention. Those that do, feel like an interruption of the narrative rather than an advancement of it. On that subject, one never gets the impression of the dance being crafted to serve the story. Unless one is already familiar with Wharton’s novel, it’s difficult to get any more than the most basic grasp of proceedings as they unfold.
While the singers are in fine voice, they’re undercut by the constant loud swishing of (admittedly, quite beautiful) period costumes that in the intimacy of The Citadel performance space, cannot be controlled. After five, ten, twenty minutes, it’s truly astonishing how mind-numbingly distracting this minor annoyance can be.
From The House of Mirth may be the slowest hour to be spent in a Toronto theatre in quite some time. Imagine an operatic Downton Abbey with all of the posing and none of the drama, and you’re left with something depressingly close to this stark, empty house.

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