A play about a man who goes to the theatre to see The Three Sisters by Chekov, and is changed.
Does this sound boring, a play about a play? Well – it’s not.
As a matter of fact, And Slowly Beauty, by Michel Nadeau, is just that – a slow moving heartfelt meditation on the beauty of life that surrounds us, minute by minute, often – ignored- and of the transformative power of the arts.
photo: David Cooper Caroline Gillis and Dennis Fitzgerald courtesy Belfry Theatre
The main character, Mr. Mann (Dennis Fitzgerald) is vaguely dissatisfied with life. There’s nothing majorly wrong, but he can’t shake this low-level feeling of dissatisfaction. There are re-structuring challenges at work, his young adult children Nadine (Celine Stubel) and Quentin (Thomas Olajide) are consumed with their own lives, and his wife Claudette (Caroline Gillis) has a busy career as a realtor.
Others might resort to an affair or a whirlwind trip to warmer climes but by happenstance, Mr Mann wins tickets to the theatre, and on a whim, because his family is too pre-occupied, he goes.
Sitting there in the dark, musing, he has his “aha” moment!
And out of darkness comes light!
He uses theatre to inform his life, and develop meaning.
There is a simplicity and open-heartedness about this production and play that makes it remarkably accessible despite the premise. You don’t even need to be knowledgeable about Chekov, The Three Sisters, or the world of theatre.
Except for Mr. Mann, the cast plays multiple roles, and becomes, by turns, office work mates, including Sylvain (Christian Murray), the staff of a hospital, Mr. Mann’s family, commuters on the metro, the owner of a coffee shop, Anita (Mary-Colin Chisholm) and its habitués, the actors in The Three Sisters, and clerk and patrons in a book store.
The magnificent set, itself a work of art, framed in white metal and clear glass, is transformed by subtle lighting changes, as the characters move in and out of doorways, corridors and rooms. (Design by John Ferguson, lighting design by Michael Walton)
photo: David Cooper Christian Murray, Celine Stubel, Dennis Fitzgerald, Mary-Colin Chisholm, Caroline Gillis and Thomas Olajide courtesy Belfry Theatre
Costumes changes are few – scarves, coats and hats transform characters from one iteration to the next.
Victoria audiences may be more familiar with composer Brooke Maxwell’s work from his association with Atomic Vaudeville, and the hit musical Ride the Cyclone. It’s the first time he has scored a play with the challenges of crafting short snippets as opposed to full length numbers. How I wished that plays, like movies, came with accompanying sound tracks! As Mr. Mann moves through his emotional ups and downs, his inner states are very accurately conveyed by the accompanying melodies.
By turns funny, witty and moving, with strong believable performances (no mean feat when playing multiple characters), the cast display a remarkable sense of ensemble work. Truly, to single out one performer would be to do a disservice to them all.
And Slowly Beauty is a co-production of the Belfry Theatre and the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. The cast features members of the National Arts Centre English Theatre Acting Company.
I asked my husband Frans Jonker for his impressions:
It’s as if for a brief moment, sitting in the theatre watching The Three Sisters, a crack opens, and lets the light in, so that Mr. Mann can appreciate his life.
Mr. Mann is so taken by his experience with theatre and the production that he goes to see The Three Sisters more than once. I will definitely be attending And Slowly Beauty again.
Kudos and thanks to director Michael Shamata, and all involved, for bringing us this rare jewel of a show.
And Slowly Beauty runs until October 23 at the Belfry Theatre.
Tickets are $23 to $38 (plus HST) and are available at 250-385-6815 or online at https://tickets.belfry.bc.ca.
Discounts for students apply: High School 50% off and 25% off for University & College Students.
And Slowly Beauty is at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa from November 7-19.
More information here: http://www2.nac-cna.ca/en/englishtheatre/event/691
Disclaimer: I was offered complimentary tickets to attend the premiere of this play. I was not paid to write a review nor was I required to do so. As always, I retain editorial control over all the content published on this blog