Thursday, January 16, 2014

Evelyne de la Chenelière's remarkable play, Flesh and Other Fragments of Love, inspired by Marie Cardinal's renowned novel, is a hauntingly beautiful meditation on love, marriage, and many other aspects of all-too-human interaction that need to be seen rather than hinted at in a mere review. But I won't let that stop me. 

Direction by Richard Rose is impeccable as he has the three characters inhabit the stage with an intense triumvirate of circularity that is simultaneously  menacing and embracing as the trio takes hold of the entire playing space - making complex sense, with every deliberate move, of the circumstances that surround a tragic discovery during a vacation on the Irish coast.

The opening moments of the play possess a slightly annoying ring of nattering, bickering domestic repartee between the central couple, but this very quickly disappears, having set the stage with an essential element of pointed talk that leads into an incredible, acute, and finely tuned balance between the elegant poetry of the script and a kind of naturalistic delivery that the actors deliver seamlessly - with a perfect balance of the subtle and the sublime.

Linda Gaboriau's translation of this English Language premiere was applauded by the playwright and the novelist during a talkback session before the opening. Gaboriau has achieved such a unique and powerful version of the original script that mixes monologues with dialogue in a relentless breakneck fusion of conversation and meditation, that it feels like one is witnessing a very rare and stunning artistic collaboration of novelist, playwright, and translator - when in fact Gaboriau has simply and brilliantly listened to the original and found the heart of the drama within the spoken voices and the silent consciousness of three very conflicted characters. There is humour and sarcasm and love and pain and the whole mess of glorious emotion that comprises a single lifetime and a single relationship.

At the core of the drama is a strong feminist voice that carefully delineates the pitfalls of a marriage and how a couple can begin with the best of intentions yet lapse into timeworn cliches about love and marriage and the heavily gendered roles of 'man and wife.' Maria del Mar as Simone gives the character an incredible and believable form of domestic, intellectual, and ethereal passion, while Blair Williams dazzles with charm as her husband Pierre. He both seethes and adores as he witnesses the emotive descriptions and responses that his husbandly rationalizations motivate and administer to. Nicole Underhay as Mary rounds out the cast with a performance choreographed by Denise Fujiwara in a way that elegantly reflects this unique balance of poetry and naturalism. Underhay's subtle vocal tones blend into heightened gestural forms of of poetic delivery - all beautifully enhanced by movement that is neither grand nor understated. It is both. She may very well be a contemporary madonna figure flanked by a kind of Simone de Beauvoir character who fights for her principles within very modern, very material circumstances.

Set  design by Karyn McCallum provides an amazing variety of levels and perspectives, from the raked central area to low lying spaces, giving the drama a reflective surface upon which to project the many layers of conversation, meditation, rationalization, and gorgeous, deceptively surreal narrative images that move us, with great aplomb and emotional engagement toward a very moving and complex finale.


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