“Isn’t this supposed to be funny?” Well, yes, yes it is. Ars Poetica, written by Arthur Holden, is indeed meant to be funny. It’s supposed to be a comedy about a failing English poetry magazine in Montreal. The lines standing by themselves were funny.
However, they were presented without the punch one usually expects from a comedy.This would seem to have been the choice of director Guy Sprung, who went for a more realistic than farcical take on Holden’s work—a decision that didn’t seem to sit well with the cast as they tried to keep their character’s comedic personalities under sway.
Nonetheless, they should be commended for squeezing realism out of their characters and putting on a decent, if somewhat bland, performance.
The one character that was allowed any colour at all, it seems, was Diane Langlois, the Canada Council representative, played by Danielle Desormeaux. Desormeaux’s Quebec English accent and eccentric nature was a bright spot among the toned-down nature of the other characters. Paula Jean Hixson as Julia Layton, the editor of Ars Poetica, was vivid in her portrayal as the hard-working and long-suffering editor. However, it was somewhat odd that in the entire cast of characters, Julia was the sole character without a real flaw. Other than a misguided act of arson in her youth, Julia is pretty much perfect. If this were played as a comedy, it would make sense to have a straight character to rein in the craziness, but as everything was under control in this realistic portrayal, she seemed like a nun among strippers.
Ars Poetica revolves around sexual misconduct and business misconduct, which is the hinge that the magazine depends on for survival. The audience, however, really isn’t given much of a reason to care about whether the magazine survives or not. If you’re an anglophone in Quebec with literary affections, you might be a bit concerned that the only English poetry magazine in Montreal is going down “la toilette,” but otherwise there isn’t enough at stake for us to care what happens to the magazine.
Instead, we worry that the illegal activities of Hugh Rose (Howard Rosenstein) or George Buckner (Noel Burton) might be revealed. However, in the end, everything ends happily, which is not the case in real life but would be plausible in a comedy.
The most enjoyable part of the production is the set and setting. Infinitheatre is located in the old Bain St-Michel; in fact, the audience and the stage are in the pool itself, which is quite a neat theatre-going experience. The set, designed by Veronica Classen, sets the drab and dreary tone of the offices of Ars Poetica and we can relate to how the characters might feel working in such a place. The expert lighting done by David-Alexandre Chabot made the set appear realistic and allowed the audience to forget that it was sitting in an old pool.
Concordia students will be pleased to know that theatre program graduate Elana Dunkelman stars as Naomi Rose, making Ars Poetica her first union show. Also from the halls of Concordia hails stage manager Michael Panich. For students familiar with the work of Concordia’s creative writing professors, poetry from Jon Paul Fiorentino and Mary di Michele is not only featured but recited by members of the cast.
Ars Poetica is on now and runs until Feb. 12 at Infinitheatre (5300 St-Dominique). Student tickets are $15. Visit www.infinitheatre.com for more information.
Elana Dunkelman, graduate of Concordia’s BFA theatre program, makes her union debut in Ars Poetica. As a proud graduate, Dunkelman is grateful to the theatre program for giving her a leg up in the professional world of acting. “I learned a lot about theory which is important when you’re talking to people in the industry. It was also useful to have professors from within the industry itself, that knew what was going on in the world of theatre,” she said.
Dunkelman plays Naomi Rose, a part she came by almost accidentally. She was spending her summer volunteering at Infinitheatre when she heard about Ars Poetica. She attended the reading of the play at Infinitheatre’s Pipeline and spoke to director Guy Sprung about her suitability for the role. After hearing her do a couple of readings Sprung decided that she was indeed right for the part.
Dunkelman’s advice for future theatre department graduates? “Go see a lot of theatre, talk to a lot of people, find a group of artists to work with. Go to other cities and see what’s happening. Keep at it. It’s a lifelong career, it doesn’t just happen.”