francine deschepper & anthony black
2b theatre’s When it Rains, written and directed by Anthony Black, returns to Halifax as part of the Magnetic North/ Stages Theatre Festivals. This play is all about projection; the projection of self and others, as well as the question of how we imbue our lives with meaning, projecting a spiritual or religious dogma and/or narrative on the events of our lives in order to create a semblance of order and control to sometimes seemingly random, terrifying and depressing circumstances. It is a deeply philosophical play that penetrates and reverberates deep within the psyche long after its final curtain call.
At its essence, When it Rains is the story of four people. Alan and Anna are siblings. Alan is married to Sybil. Anna is married to Louis. Life happens to each of them. They experience unbridled joy, fall in love, search for their destinies, make compromises, suffer loss, betrayal and heartache and struggle to hold on to their sense of their place in the world. Delving deeper, we see Anna, Alan, Sybil and Louis continually projecting their visions of themselves, the world and each other on every conversation they have, and this keeps them from truly connecting and hearing one another and detaches them from their own authentic voices.
Anthony Black tells this story in a very unique way. The set is sleekly designed by Nick Bottomley (with equally as smooth sound design from Christian Barry), and is all projected on the back wall of the theatre, using magnificent tricks of the light and moving projected pictures to create the semblance of a three dimensional world. The most unique of Black’s story telling devices is the choice to use projected text to compliment (and sometimes supplement) his characters’ dialogue. This could seem like a bold cop-out, as the text at times summarizes key plot points that would typically unfold naturally as the play progresses, but it becomes clear during a monumental rewrite of this text, that the titles are not simply humorous postmodern commentary on the action, but suggest the presence of an omnipotent power, carefully crafting this story which continually questions the existence of omnipotence, of God, of fate and destiny and any external forces that shape the order of the chaos of the world. Of course, we project narrative onto events when we construct stories, and it is unclear whether the teller of this particular tale is an artist, one of the characters, or a divine creator (and wouldn’t such a creator also be an artist?). The characters at times seem vaguely aware that they are in a play and each one performs his or her vision of him or herself, sometimes absurdly theatrically, as in the case of Louis, the Frenchest clichéd French man that there ever was en Francais. This is all Black calling our attention to how vague the line often is between performance, performativity and being.
Marc Bendavid plays Louis, a passionate, yet wayward professor who finds himself regressing into the most primal forms of humanity, but keeps projecting his own dramatic and sometimes desperate cultural stereotype on himself, culminating with him serenading a very reluctant Anna from outside her window in the rain with Jacques Brel’s “Ne Me Quitte pas.” Louis has this helplessness about him that is equal parts endearing and infuriating, which allows the audience to sympathize with his wife Anna, who is clearly at her wits end. Alan, played by Anthony Black, keeps the others at an intellectual distance but also makes it clear that he genuinely cares about both his wife and his sister, although he is not the greatest at expressing himself. I find that Black is one of those actor/playwrights whose own words suit his voice so perfectly that having him play Alan sets the tone for the entire play.
Francine Deschepper plays Sybil, an elementary school teacher with a degree in criminology, who has a solo scene so pitch perfect that it guarantees that the audience will fall instantly in love with her. Deschepper also shows incredible fortitude in a collision with Louis where she screams at him to get washed, but it is obvious that her intentions are much more complex. Samantha Wilson plays Anna, a woman drifting from one vocation to the next, unable to trust her instincts, but on a constant pursuit of empowerment and self exploration. She is emotional to the extreme and Wilson is fierce in bringing Anna to the edge of her own sanity and then retreating back into a more meek and submissive character with her brother and sister in law. The familial chemistry between Black and Wilson in this production is especially sweet and one really get a sense of what the journey has been for these two to develop a relationship with one another throughout their challenging lives.
Anthony Black is a vividly intellectual playwright, and 2b theatre always uses incredibly creative and artful theatrical conventions to build the worlds that accentuate their stories. When it Rains has visual magic and questions many of the world’s most vast and challenging conundrums, but at its essence it always remains a story about four people. It is a story that will make you laugh and empathize, hold you captivated and perhaps even offer a glimmer of light to the flood.
When It Rains plays at the Spatz Theatre (1855 Trollope Street) as part of the Magnetic North Theatre Festival and Eastern Front Theatre’s Stages Festival at the following times:
Monday June 23: 9pm
Tuesday June 24: 9pm
Wednesday June 25: 7pm