SummerWorks Reviews: All of Him, Hanging of Francoise Laurent, The Kreutzer Sonata

promo shot of Ted Dykstra in The Kreutzer Sonata

We’re in the latter stages of the ten-day SummerWorks festival, and unfortunately I must report that I haven’t seen nearly as much theatre as I’d have liked. The stresses of adjusting to a new job after being unemployed for several months has put a damper in my fest attendance, and at this point I’m not sure if I can even commit to more shows the rest of the week. How does Ricky go to a half dozen shows a week, review them all, and find time for full-time employment anyway? This I will never understand.

Anyway, I have a few shows I did see that I haven’t reviewed yet, so I’ll knock those off one at a time here.

All of Him is less a play and more of a…well, to be honest, I’m not sure what to call it. A seminar, maybe? The subject is Pat Pillay, the playwright/performer Tanya Pillay’s father, and the challenge is this: how do you reconcile what you know about a loving father with accusations that he’s committed a terrible crime?

There’s no real answer in All of Him, but it’s not for lack of trying. Amidst an audience largely made up of her family and friends, Tanya Pillay tells the story of her father, encourages the audience to ask questions and express their opinions, and even tried to greet everyone before the show started (I had to admit, while sitting next to a friend of the family who I’d been chatting with, that I had no idea who she was, I just got a ticket because it sounded like the most interesting sounding in it’s time slot. She was thrilled).

Pillay has a projector and screen set up to show pictures and a handful of props that are passed around the audience. She tells her father’s story without shame, admits it took her years and a great deal of therapy to come to terms with him and the things he was accused of doing, and tries to get the audience to ask anything they can think of, no matter how unpleasant it might be.

On this night the audience seemed a bit reluctant, maybe because it was so full of people who knew the family, although it was interesting when Pillay’s mom and one of her cousins who had no idea his uncle had such a past spoke up. It’s a show that’s pretty raw, and could probably use another 5-10 minutes of stimulating content so that it doesn’t have to rely on a talkative audience to feel complete. Still, Pillay is an engaging performer, and it’s a show with potential.

(after the page break: a hanging, and my favourite show of SummerWorks)

The Hanging of Francoise Laurent, meanwhile, is a play with a lot of interesting background and history behind it; the problem is that the central figure’s story arc isn’t that compelling. Francoise is a servant of low class in 18th century Montreal. Her upper class employer, recently landed from France, enjoys her service until she catches Francoise in an act of theft and, as the promo text says, a woman at that time and place could escape execution if she persuaded the hangman to marry her.

You can probably more or less guess where it goes from here. The play does do a nice job of establishing a cool setting and atmosphere, however, including having actress Sarah Cormier play the accordion while on stage. Zach Fraser does some neat work with a variety of passing roles too, and the play has some very neat staging using just a couple of wooden boxes and a folding room divider. But the lead (Kiersten Tough) is a bit of an enigma; she talks mostly in riddles and half-truths. This is great for the first half of the play to help create that atmosphere, but then when the play becomes all about the character and her looming execution, it’s hard to feel much for her, since up to that point she’s been mostly a puzzle.

If this group was staging a story about old Montreal in the 1750’s in a similar way I’d happily go see it. But the central character’s plight is just not that interesting.

Finally, my favourite of SummerWorks so far (and of the festival, if I don’t get to anything else) is far and away The Kreutzer Sonata. Less of a new work than a re-mount for a smaller stage by the Art of Time Ensemble, who’ve done it twice to sold-out houses already, Ted Dykstra’s adaptation of an old story written by Russian writer Leo Tolstoy (the War and Peace guy) is told quite simply as the only character, Yuri, sitting in an armchair in his bathrobe, occasionally getting up to get a new glass of water. But the power of the narrative and the way that Dykstra delivers it make the story so compelling that the tension in the theatre as he speaks is just remarkable.

Yuri begins by telling the audience about his difficult relationship with his wife. He then relates the tale of the pianist he brought into their home one day, and how this man and Yuri’s wife, an accomplished violinist, began to enjoy playing music together, more particularly the Kreutzer Sonata, a pretty Beethoven piece for violin and piano. Yuri thinks it’s rather unfair that music can make a person feel things other than what he is or should currently be feeling; the look on his wife’s face while playing the tune haunts him, and he thinks once a musician is open to playing with another musician they’re probably more open to adultery too.

It’s not that Yuri is an especially admirable character. He’s likable enough, but he’s also a weak-willed man, unable to confront his wife, and ruled by jealousy. It’s pretty clear early on where the story Yuri tells is going, but Dykstra tells it so brilliantly it’s still riveting. My only complaint, if I have one, is that the music is pre-recorded; I think having it played live on stage would probably add to the suspense, thought I suspect that when the show was originally staged it did have live accompaniement. Dykstra is amazing, and if you only see one play of the plays I’ve reviewed at SummerWorks so far, see this one.

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Posted on by Brian in Everything, Reviews, Summerworks

2 Responses to SummerWorks Reviews: All of Him, Hanging of Francoise Laurent, The Kreutzer Sonata

  1. Tanya

    Brian: thank you for writing such a personal and thorough account of your experience of All of Him. It’s been hard for me, from within an atyipcal form, to understand the audience experience, so reports like this are very informative.

  2. Pingback: Brian’s Best of 2010 | The Panic Manual

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