The Syringa Tree : playing at the Centaur Theatre Nov. 6 to Dec. 2, 2007.
There is a reason The Syringa Tree is revered by a multitude of audiences and critics from London to New York: it is a truly powerful play. The Syringa Tree was written by Pamela Gien, who won the Off-Broadway Theater Award (OBIE) for Best Play in 2001. Along with writing the semi-autobiographical screenplay, Gien also performed the piece, which won her the Outer Circle Critics Award for Outstanding Solo Performance.
For The Syringa Tree’s run at the Centaur Theatre Canadian actress Caroline Cave takes over as the solo performer. Noted director Larry Moss, who has worked with actors such as Hillary Swank, Helen Hunt and Michael Clark Duncan among others, helms the play, while Matt Salinger produces.
The Syringa Tree is a story of a South African family living during Apartheid. A story of bravery and freedom, the play delves into political, social, and personal terrain without being preachy or overbearing. More than trying to get any political message across, it tells the story of a family’s circumstances through the innocent words of a child.
The success of The Syringa Tree is due to the strength of the material and Cave’s performance. She saunters in and out of 23 different characters ranging from young, old, male, female, Afrikaans, Jewish, Zulu and English. This can be a little disorienting at first but the spectator is soon transported by the sheer intensity of the performance. Cave often makes eye contact with audience members, adding to the play’s poignancy. When the two-hour play ended Cave was granted a well-deserved standing ovation.
The Syringa Tree is an absolute must-see for acting students as it was initially conceived as an acting exercise. The mise-en-scene is a bare bones affair. A muted tone canvas serves as backdrop together with a single swing dangling in the center of the stage. The basic staging complements the performance and helps to evoke the different time and place.
Le vrai monde : playing at Place des arts from Oct. 31 to Dec. 8, 2007.
The modern classic The Real World is being brought back to the Duceppe theatre company at Place-des-arts. Poignant and immediate, Le Vrai Monde by Michel Tremblay explores the phenomena of literary creation, family taboos, love and hate.
Claude, 23, is a frustrated, aspiring playwright. He writes his first play and hands it to his mother for approval. The play opens on her outrage. His mother feels violated by the blistering depiction he made of his siblings, too thinly veiled. By looking for support he just opened a can of worms.
For the next ninety minutes, the plot takes the audience on a journey of deception and pretence. Two different sets of actors will incarnate the same family, at two different eras; one for the bad mistakes, and one for what became of them decades later. Fur flies, and scores get settled wantonly, unfairly sometimes. More importantly, the characters’ layers of defence mechanisms gradually dissolve, leaving a cruder picture of the family.
This play is not about incest or adultery. It is not about misogyny, nor domestic violence either, although all those are present in the narrative. Somehow, and with much sensitivity, this play makes the audience accomplices, and we believe in it. It is about the reality of any family observed in unforgiving light and about the unspeakable taboos.
In the end, it is as much about Quebec culture as it is about human nature, something Tremblay also established in his 1968 master-piece Les Belles Soeurs, the first full length play to be written and acted in Joual.
Tremblay confirmed in 1987 that he remained one of the major Quebec playwrights with the original piece. Through autobiographic accounts of ‘his’ Quebec, he takes the whole province through a timeless trip. His settings of choice are the ’70s during the “Révolution Tranquille” on the Plateau. But in the end, these superficial facts do not weigh much compared to that eternal, contrived, fallible, universal human condition.
Dating Jesus: playing at theatre Ste. Catherine Nov. 8 to 16, 2007.
When a theatre company gives itself the name Unwashed Grape, one should expect to witness a production as unique as the name itself, especially if the play is held at a tiny, small-stage room which can comfortably hold no more than a hundred people.
Unfortunately for audiences, they got nothing of the sort with the staging of Dating Jesus by Louis Arsenault. The title itself, as well as the wonderful actors, had so much potential, but the story itself didn’t. Set in Montreal, the play follows Renee (played by Laura Mitchell), a bipolar poet and teacher struggling to balance her mental problems and sexual appetite with her waning efforts as a single mother.
Her daughter Elle (Taylor Baruchel) is hanging on to her by a thread, and her son has already chosen a life for himself with his father in Oshawa. Her Buddhist neighbour Ocean (Janis Kirshner) and upper-class sister Sylvie (Debra Kirshenbaum) often attempt to help the faltering Renee, but to no avail. Her only real comfort in life is the pleasure she gets in spying on her therapist, whom Elle callously refers to as “Goat Head”. With its simplistic set, Dating Jesus walks itself through Renee’s eventual breakdown and the possible ways she, as well as those closest to her, can recover and find redemption.
The play certainly had some life from the get-go, but as it slowly progressed, it became very clear that the plot was simply going nowhere.
In the end, it was obvious that Dating Jesus was a typical examination of so many things at once: the numerous difficulties single mothers face everyday, their need for personal satisfaction, the battling fears of deserting one’s own child and finally, the innate capacity to translate one’s struggles artistically in order to release oneself from the painful reality of life.
It is hard to say if these elements make for good theatre, nevertheless Dating Jesus did manage to hold on to its audience with frequent laughs, sensible dialogue and effective performances by its all-female cast.