SummerWorks Review: Montparnasse [Sheep No Wool Theatre Company]

Montparnasse Program Picture

An opinion on nudity in theatre/film/whatever: I don’t especially mind it. I usually find a lot of nudity gratuitous, and lately I seem to be seeing it largely for either shock value or emphasis on emotional turmoil, that kind of thing, which gets a little old after a while. But for the most part I don’t take offense to it, nor do I find a lot of novelty in nudity for nudity’s sake.

Montparnasse, running right now as part of the SummerWorks Festival here in Toronto, does manage something I haven’t seen for a while: nudity that’s not really about the nudity. It’s not that Maev Beaty and Erin Shields, the playwrights and cast of Montparnasse, take their clothes off in a cavalier way. It’s more that one or the other of them is naked for almost the entire running time of Montparnasse, but it’s not especially important. That takes a whole lot of acting chops and a lot of self-confidence, and I sure as hell couldn’t do it, but Beaty and Shields both pull it off with relative ease. It’s impressive; to spend time on stage performing a play set in 1920’s Paris, dealing with subjects like friendship, identity, and the nature of art and inspiration is one thing, but doing it while naked half the time is something else.

But while Beaty and Shields’s performances in Montparnasse are great, the material they’ve written for it is merely good. The plot is pretty straightforward, though the setting is pretty interesting: Amelia and Margaret are expats beginning their lives anew in Paris in the 1920’s, during the inter-war period when the city was teeming with all kinds of artists, sculptors, and painters and was crazy with culture and nightlife, especially in Montparnasse. Of course, if you don’t know much art history, names like Man Ray, Henry Miller and Juan Miro that are sprinkled throughout the script won’t mean a whole lot to you, but even if you know just a little bit it’s enjoyable. Margaret is working as a nude model and muse for painters; Amelia wants to be a painter but soon ends up in the modelling racket to make some money. They plot a course through the hedonistic cultural scene in the city, Amelia trying to find her artistic muse and growing more comfortable in her skin and in the city, Margaret getting wilder and wilder in her indulgences but coming close to her breaking point. In the end it comes to a slightly predictable end, with the two women’s respective jealousy and ego rearing their ugly heads, and a couple of the narrative devices didn’t work too well for me, particularly when one actress would tell a story, and the other would play out various roles within it.

It’s a good piece of work, though, and with a little development has the potential be a great one.

3[1]

Montparnasse has three more shows at SummerWorks: August 12th at 8:30, August 14th at 6:30, and August 16th at 2:30, all at Theatre Passe Muraille.

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Posted on by Brian in Everything, Summerworks, Theatre

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