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A miscalculation of grave proportions

by admin February 9, 2010

The Segal Centre has hit their stride this season, restaging classics like Educating Rita and Inherit the Wind that still have strong appeal in the 21st century. The same cannot be said for the 20-year-old Geometry in Venice, which has seen better days.
Set in the northern Italian city during the 1890s and based on a Henry James novella, Geometry in Venice centres on a family struggling to sustain their superior social status as their wealth is in continual decline. The Moreens are desperately trying to marry their daughter Amy (Susanna Fournier) to the most eligible suitor while also trying to keep their disabled son well-educated. Morgan (brightly played by 12-year-old Elliott Larson) has a heart condition, preventing him from playing with the other children. What he lacks in physical ability, he makes up for in intellect, leading his mother to hire a Canadian tutor, Pemberton (Graham Cuthbertson), to further his education. Pemberton, who is unsure how much he is being paid for his services, is amazed to see how quickly Morgan picks up languages (he learns Greek overnight), so he begins to introduce him to mathematics.

Morgan tries to solve the proof of Pythagoras’ theorem using sand and placement of certain living room furniture – a well-produced visual gimmick. Unfortunately, it was the only memorable moment of act one.
Act two begins the slow deterioration of the Moreens’ social status in France, as Amy is tirelessly courting the globetrotting novelist Henry James (Damien Atkins), who invites Amy to all the right social events, but is reluctant to commit to her. Pemberton is growing restless with his lack of remuneration; after tutoring for a few months, he still has not earned enough money to afford a hair cut. The Moreens can only pull off the smoke and mirrors game for so long, as the truth finally reveals itself in a dramatic conclusion where a flower bouquet is smashed across the glowing white floorboards of the stage, shattering whatever hope is left for the Moreens.

On paper, Geometry in Venice has a great concept, as it deals with the courtship dilemmas in the social climbing Victorian era that are the subject of many successful novels and plays. The problem here is that the play itself, by Montreal playwright Michael Mackenzie, is languidly written. The audience is not invested with any of the characters or the plot itself; this is a shame since the cast is so talented. Director Chris Abraham’s oversight doesn’t help the pacing much either. Stagehands continually rearranged curtains and set pieces between scenes, an unnecessary distraction except for the fact that it was the only movement in a play that was desperate for some kinetic energy.
And while the simplistic set adorned with white columns spot lit from above were quite eloquent, designer Julie Fox didn’t quite get the fashion memo: no white sets after Labour Day. It’s enough that our streets are filled with snow so we could use a break from that specific colour, or lack thereof.
The Segal Centre has proved it can put on successful productions of classic theatre, but it is really time to branch out into more unsung territory. Every now and then, a contemporary play would do some good.

Geometry in Venice plays at the Segal Centre until Feb. 14. Tickets are $22 for students, $31-$44 for adults.

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