Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Photos, Top to Bottom: Martha Plimpton as Neasa and Brian F. O'Byrne as Ian in the Broadway production of Shining City (2006); Oliver Platt as John and Brian F. O'Byrne as Ian in same (http://theater.nytimes.com/2006/05/10/theater/reviews/10shin.html); Celine Stubel, Caroline Gillis, Dennis Fitzgerald and Mary-Colin Chisolm in And Slowly Beauty...(http://www.timescolonist.com/entertainment/Superior+cast+deftly+handles+tricky+play/5453403/story.html?cid=megadrop_story)

1. The theatre season got off to a start last week with shows opening at the Belfry Theatre and Theatre Inconnu. What were your impressions?

I was very happy with both of my trips to the theatre this week. As an experienced theatregoer I was rewarded by both of these new productions. One of them tells its story through a combination of text and movement, French-Canadian playwright Michel Nadeau’s And Slowly Beauty, the second one through the ancient art of storytelling, in Irishman Conor McPherson’s Shining City. So audiences are challenged by getting into the slower rhythm of theatre that is more interested in the journey than the destination.

2. You mentioned that Conor McPherson is one of your favorite current playwrights...what makes his plays work so well?

Well, I admit to a weakness for Irish plays and playwrights, there is such a delicious use of language in my favorite Irish plays…think of George Bernard Shaw, JM Synge, Brian Friel, Martin McDonagh…and Conor McPerson all have terrifically engaging stories to tell and they tell them so well. McPherson’s early hit play, The Weir, was set in a village bar where some locals entertain themselves by telling ghost stories to a woman, new to town. But it turns out that she has the best ghost story of all to tell. His subsequent play The Seafarer is a highly amusing black comedy that presents a particularly Irish working class twist on the Faust legend, when the Devil decides to join a group of mates playing poker on Christmas Eve. This playful interest in the occult and supernatural is also seen in Shining City, his 2004 play. This spellbinding play follows a newly minted therapist and defrocked priest named Ian as he tries to make a new life in Dublin. His interaction with one patient, John, turns on this widower patient’s story of being haunted by the ghost of his dead wife. Interwoven with lengthy scenes, mostly in monologue form from John, are scenes that tell us more about who Ian is, why he left his girlfriend and young baby, and the choices he must make. This excellent production at Theatre Inconnu works very well in the intimate Little Fernwood Hall space and features strong performances from its cast. Michael Shewchuk always impresses and does so here; Dustin Finerty finds his stride with the locacious John and makes us care about this sad and guilt-ridden man; and Christina Patterson as Ian’s girlfriend Neasa and James McDougall as young male prostitute Laurence handle well their respective scenes. Regular Inconnu director Graham McDonald pays attention to what matters in this story, and doesn’t fail to deliver this haunting play’s chilling surprise by its end.

3. Now let's turn to the English language premiers of this Quebec play And Slowly Beauty...your reaction to this production?

This play had me in its synopsis in describing the tale of an unhappy middle aged man who finds reason to carry on after going to see a production of Anton Chekov’s Three Sisters. Belfry artistic director Michael Shamata choreographs this production as much as he directs it, with a company of six actors, five of whom morph into many roles to support the journey of Mr. Mann. This Everyman figure—dissatisfied with his mundane government job and alienated from his wife and children—is beautifully rendered by newcomer to the Belfry, Dennis Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has a slightly sad, slightly clownlike face that allows him to take in the beauty of Chekov, of theatre, of art, and (eventually) of the meaning and meaninglessness of life, and respond in ways we can relate to. The play is an homage to the power of art in general, here represented in the theatre epiphany that pushes the naive audience member Mr. Mann to rethink his life in profound ways. It is also theatrical in its storytelling, with five actors walking in endless circles around Mr. Mann, sliding off chairs, and sliding into another costume, as they give us clear and crisp portraits in a fully realized world. This is all exquisitely presented in Shamata’s tightly constructed and effectively visual interpretation, well supported by his more than able cast. This cast includes local favorite Celine Stubel, who charms as always, and equally strong work from Mary-Colin Chisolm, Caroline Gillis, Christina Murray and Thomas Olajide. The show also features a sharp and evocative design by John Ferguson and engaging background music by Ride the Cyclone’s composer Brooke Maxwell. This is not your everyday theatre piece, it is intentionally fragmented in form, although scenes become longer and richer in the second act, and the use of silence is unusual in most contemporary theatre. But it offers real rewards in its sincere contemplative consideration of the truism that great art can change our lives.

4. Sounds like the beginning of a promising upcoming season...lots to look forward to...any recommendations?

Quite a few, in fact. The next show at the Belfry is the classic Canadian comedy Jitters, which should be great fun, as will Martin McDonagh’s Beauty Queen of Leenane at Langham Court. And of course I can’t wait to see Langham’s production of Broadway hit The Drowsy Chaperone. The Phoenix is doing a beautiful play by American Sarah Ruhl called Eurydice in the new year, and there’s a new show at William Head, an adaptation of Mervyn Peake’s satirical and fantastic Gormenghast, directed by Ian Case and opening next month. Inconnu continues its history of interesting programming with revival of 1960’s drama Peter Nichols’ Day in the Death of Joe Egg in November. Plenty to look forward to, so go out and support local theatre!

NOTE: And Slowly Beauty continues until October 23rd at the Belfry. Tickets are at 250-385-6815. Shining City plays until October 8th. Tickets are at 250-360-0234 or ticketrocket.org

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