The Only Travesty is if You Missed It

On March 21st, 2009 at 1:35pm in the Baillie Theatre at Soulpepper I fell in ardent love with Tom Stoppard. One would think that as a graduate student of the theatre, this would have happened to me years ago. But one would be wrong.
Sometimes I see shows that paralyze me with the urgency of language, that make me contemplate the human condition and force me to confront the things I sometimes hide or shy away from in my own existence. I so often walk up Yonge Street breathless with my mind churning, like a hamster on a wheel, groping frantically at a way to make sense of the experience I have just encountered. That is great theatre. And then, sometimes I see shows that make me absolutely giddy with the sheer happiness that stems from being a young theatre aficionado. I float out of the theatre rooted in such pride that I belong to this community, and filled with the gratitude and pure joy that such things have been created so that someone like me could ‘get it’ and enjoy it and fall in love for awhile. And that is great theatre too. Travesties, which closed March 21st, 2009, was one such show.
The play was brilliantly directed by Joseph Ziegler who filled the stage with so much detail that it was difficult for an audience member to decide where to look, or what to focus on, but nothing seemed muddled or convoluted, just rich and textured. Ziegler isn’t afraid of silence, of a temperate pace and allowing the art to speak for itself in its own voice. The play itself is a terrifically clever conglomeration of James Joyce, Vladimir Lenin, Tristian Tzara and The Importance of Being Earnest all intertwined in Zurich during World War I. In a way, it is a self-indulgent piece because you can’t help feeling intelligent if you get that Oscar Wilde reference or that joke in French. Oh-ho! Aren’t we clever! But, honestly, Stoppard makes it all just so much damn fun! After all, “Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about.”
The performances in this show were extraordinary. Krystin Pellerin (Cecily) is a fierce, captivating performer infused with poise, grace and shrewd comic timing. I say this with the utmost respect, my initial reaction to her performance was, “wow, she’s going to grow up to be Megan Follows!” Maggie Huculak’s portrayal of Nadya, Lenin’s wife, was a pillar of severity within the play, and she gave a deeply earnest and poignant performance. Oliver Dennis was strong and meticulous as Lenin. When you leave the theatre after the show, you almost feel as though you have seen the Bolshevik leader in person. Kevin Bundy was hilarious as the butler, Bennett, his timing and wry expressions could not be more perfect. Jordan Pettle was absolutely delightful as Tristian Tzara; foppish, and dandyish with complete charm, wit and a fair dose of irony about him. I felt that Sarah Wilson had the most difficult role in the play, as it is difficult to play an innocent, girlish Edwardian ingénue when everyone else’s characters are so rich, nuanced and excitingly intellectual. She did have this wonderful duet though near the end of the play with Pellerin that was absolutely charming.
I came to the conclusion as I walked out of the Baillie Theatre that David Storch is sort of the Johnny Depp of the Canadian theatre scene. He is an incredibly outstanding actor, who always gives so much thought and depth to every character he plays. Also, like Depp, he tends to completely transform himself depending on which role he is currently playing. This is especially fascinating, since, also like Depp, he is usually working on at least two projects simultaneously at any given moment. Storch played James Joyce in Travesties, and, as always, I was struck by how playful he can be, when the script allows for it, and how he knows exactly how to meld sincerity, depth, and integrity while still keeping his character a bit off-kilter. This interpretation worked so well, since the story was being told through the hazy remembrances of an elderly British gentleman, Henry Carr, so it seemed so apt that Joyce would be a little hazy, dreamlike, and almost stereotyped- but not quite. I must also tell you, there is nothing more delightful than watching David Storch sing an Irish ballad and then dance a jaunty jig. Amazing.
It was Diego Matamoros performance as Henry Carr, however, that made me burst a little inside with rapture every time he came onstage. Matamoros played Carr as both a young man and as a senile old coot, and executed both with flair and precision. His portrayal of senile Carr was one of the most hysterical things I have seen in a very long time. He threw himself into every moment of the show one hundred percent and the entire play rode on the back of his proficiency and dynamism. It was truly one of the most all-around impressive performances that I have seen in Toronto this year.
I have rarely been disappointed in the theatre I see at Soulpepper. It is one of my favourite places to see shows, and the actors who tend to return to their stages continue to impress and humble me with each new role they play. I encourage you to support (and frequent) this theatre company. Its new show Glengarry Glen Ross (David Mamet) opens April 2nd, 2009. It would be a travesty to miss it.

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