Helen’s Necklace at the Belfry Theatre – a review

What woman has not, on losing a treasured object, turned house and home upside-down, searching until it is found, remaining inconsolable if it is not?  Helen, in Carol Frechette’s miniature parable Helen’s Necklace, (Belfry Theatre) echoes the common response in an uncharacteristic way.

Helen's Necklace 8470Lee Majdoub and Tracey Moore in Helen’s Necklace . Photo: David Bukach

At a conference in a war-ravaged Middle Eastern country, where she’s come to help solve the problems of the world, Helen (Tracey Moore) suddenly notices that her talisman, a “lighter than air” pearl necklace, is missing. Rather than return home to her “northern country” with the others, she sets out into the chaos of the city, on a quest to find it, ably assisted by Nabil (Lee Majdoub – in multiple roles).

At first, we have some sympathy for Helen – her reaction isn’t that far from one we might have ourselves, but as her journey continues, it becomes apparent this necklace has little, to no, commercial value – her search is ridiculous amid a population still reeling from the aftermath of a country in shambles, coping with losses of a magnitude she cannot even begin to fathom.

And slowly, these inhabitants (Foreman, Woman, Vagrant, Man, Taxi Driver) begin to teach her life lessons, and slowly, she awakens to a world outside herself.

This is the magic of Helen’s Necklace. In a short 65 minutes Moore and Majdoub take us far beyond the peaceful world of our small island, and transport us into the city’s dusty, noisy streets, and the lives and tragedies of its inhabitants.

Simanovitch winner Carol Frechette wrote Helen’s Necklace in 2000 after travelling to Lebanon with a group of francophone women writers. Here she met Palestinian women in a refuge camp.  The refrain “we cannot go on living like this” is verbatim from that encounter.  The play has been produced world-wide, including by the celebrated French-Lebanese director Nabil El Azan. The English translation is by playwright John Murrell.

Viewers more accustomed to the often sparseness of similar-length black box or Fringe plays will be pleasantly surprised by the rich backdrops and textured sets (Carole Klemm). Sound designer Michael Rinaldi weaves a constant tapestry of oriental music, traffic, bird song and water that seldom pauses, adding to Helen’s displacement.  One brief quiet moment stands out amid the din.

In French the word évanescent, translated in the English text as “lighter than air”, also carries the meaning of fugitive, ephemeral, uncertain, temporary, elusive, transitory – it’s the underlying metaphor for Helen’s life, and the human condition – how foolishly we seek to hold on to a semblance of permanence.

Tracey Moore portrays Helen as a sympathetic, if ignorant EveryTraveller, dimly aware that somehow she is missing out.  Some versions of Helen’s Necklace cast numerous actors to play the other roles; here, Lee Majdoub, in his first stage appearance (he’s a TV and film actor), navigates multiple characters handily, sketching them by gesture, posture and headware.

Director James Fagan Tait, cast and crew deliver, with craft and artistry, a theatrical amuse- bouche that informs, questions, illuminates, and leaves us wondering, at the end, if we are not more like Helen than we want to admit. It upends, in elegant fashion, our certain world-view.  What could have, so easily, been heavy-handed, shines a brief and illuminating light on a world far beyond my ken; days later I am still pondering the central dilemmas of privilege, race and agency.

If you too would like to ponder, the Belfry Theatre has embarked on a partnership with the Greater Victoria Public Library, including talks in branches, and the Belfry Librarian (book lists).

Tarragon Theatre where Helen’s Necklace was first staged in English has published an excellent study guide.

Helen’s Necklace, by Carol Frechette, translation John Murrell
Belfry Theatre, 1291 Gladstone Avenue
February 12 – March 2nd
$20.00  Previews (February 12 & 13)
$25.00  All other performances
Discounts are available for Students and Seniors for all performances.  All prices are subject to HST.

Audience Advisory:  As this show is being performed in the Studio, there is no Reserved Seating and latecomers cannot be admitted.  There will not be an intermission.

Cast and Artists

Tracey Moore Helene
Lee Majdoub Nabil
Carole Fréchette Playwright
John Murrell Translator
James Fagan Tait Director
Carole Klemm Set Designer
Erin Macklem Costume Designer
Bryan Kenney Lighting Designer
Michael Rinaldi Sound Designer

I was offered complimentary tickets to attend the opening night of “Helen’s Necklace”. I was not required to write a review. As always, I retain complete editorial control of all content published on my blog. 

About @lacouvee

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