Tuesday, February 23, 2010

PEER GYNT, Ibsen, (Dir. Erika Batdorf) Church of the Holy Trinity 14.02.10

This is an ambitious project that ultimately fell very flat.

The Thistle Project, an outfit that grew out of the York U's grad program in theatre, worked with former prof Batdorf to pare down this Ibsen text into something that could be staged by two actors: Peer (Susan Coyne) and Everybody Else (Matthew Romantini). The setting in the Church of the Holy Trinity meant that the audience was invited to follow the actors throughout the space, largely emptied of pews, to various locations defined by ligth, sound and action.

I went with my buddy Gunther, a former Grotowski acolyte from Eastern Germany who has done his fair share of sweating expressively around the floors of churches in various eastern bloc countries in the pursuit of stern theatrical niravana. He had heard about the show, and, enthused about the prospect of witnessing the potentially interesting and revealing phenomenon of Susan Coyne pursuing Peer's quixotic and existential journey, easily talked me into coming along. Only thing was, I've rarely seen such a poor performance in the professional theatre: there was an attempt at a kind of elevated stylization, and perhaps it was the earnest attempt to fill the large space of the church, but the work throughout was overextended, imprecise, gusty, and quite uninteresting. Poor Gunther, committed teuton that he is, he's never a one to tolerate anything less than perfection and so started swearing under his breath in a remote german dialect shortly after the show began. He hated the show so much he began to sweat and needed to go lie down under the altar.

I tried to hang in there as best as possible. Romantini is cleary an able actor, but still, all the silly running about from one end of the church to the next, complete with clumsy transitions overplayed through a repetition to become very predictable, prompted the release of a couple of grunts and farts of percussive disdain from Gunther from his unholy vantage point (from under the altar I mean).

Seriously though, I don't mean to be disingenuous, but when you're doing a site specific piece it's really important to know why you've staged it there and make choices accordingly, otherwise the whole effort becomes quite random. Similarly, helping actors adjust to new locations involves calibrating the tonality and range of physical and vocal actions such that their work in the space resonates at the right frequencies, otherwise (as was the case in this instance) they just end up shouting.

What, I ask, have we done to deserve this!

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