The Great Canadian Theatre Company presents
Helen’s Necklace by Carole Fréchette
Translated by John Murrell
with Musician Amir Amiri
Director Lise Ann Johnson
Set & Costume Designer Camellia Koo
Lighting Designer Lesley Wilkinson
Composer Amir Amiri
Stage Manager Laurie Champagne
Assistant Director Christie Watson
Apprentice Stage Manager Samira Rose
Head Electrician Jon Alexander
Head of Audio Jon Carter
Head of Wardrobe & Props Louise Hayden
Scenic Painter Stephanie Dahmer
Rob Lukas, Andrew Lee, Kevin Kenny, Fred Martin
Keith Moulton, Dave Muir, Ken Holtz, Derek Hilton
Performance viewed: April 26, 8 pm
Running time: approximately one hour
Kate Hurman is a professional. She proved it last night by doing everything she could to squeeze a character out of the vacuous boob she was saddled with playing in this disappointing script. You would think that if a playwright with John Murrell’s credits would take the time to translate a play, it would be worth producing. As I was watching the rotating encounters with their repetitive messages that never sank into Helen’s awareness, or that seemed to sink in, but were really just superficial moments of emotional gamesmanship — as I was watching these emotional red herrings, it occurred to me that one would choose scenes like these if one wanted drama in the Greek sense, emotions bleeding out of every pore. But let’s face it: what emotions can you wring out of the loss of a plastic necklace? Ho hum.
Okay. So the trick is that the play is really about much greater losses, and as Fréchette tells us in the program notes, she wrote the play from the point of view of someone watching a conflict, but not understanding it: “. . . it’s not a play about Lebanon or Palestinians; it’s a play about me watching them.” I understand her sincerity and her artistic honesty, but this play does not do her intentions justice. Helen, who represents Fréchette’s point of view, does not learn what Fréchette apparently learned: the Palestinian situation is horrific, and makes any tourist’s problem such as the loss of a piece of costume jewelery totally irrelevant. Now, Fréchette is clever in that she makes Helen the tourist a talky self-absorbed ugly North American who rattles on about the minutia of her loss without regard to the fact that her various listeners hardly understand her. If they could, they would dislike her even more than the audience does. That is a problem that no amount of finesse by Kate Hurman could overcome: we don’t like the character. And we don’t like her because of her inability to retain the lessons that should have brought about an epiphany, but instead resulted in a constant dismissal of all her odyssey seemingly should have taught her.
Now about the length of the play. Sixty-one minutes? That means that there were no intermissions in the whole season at GCTC. What did that do to Snack Bar revenues? More significantly, what will it do to the future audience? The longest play of the GCTC season was The Oxford Roofclimber’s Rebellion, which weighed in at eighty minutes; the rest were all about an hour long. Not much of an evening out. I wonder if the theatre audience has become so completely immersed in media that the comment of someone entering the theatre last night expresses a common thought: “Only on hour long, eh? Good. We’ll get out early.” Was the patron interested in hitting the booze early? or perhaps a favorite TV show? Has theatre come to be seen as an inconvenient portion of the evening? In today’s poem, “lotus eaters“, I address the issue of distraction from the “here and now”. I should note that I drafted the poem yesterday afternoon, while sitting in Rideau Centre, well before I saw the play.
We had live music played by a musician on stage — that puzzles me. The music was appropriate as foley is appropriate for a film, but hardly necessary for a play. Amir Amiri was inconspicuous, and so was his music. There was no dancing or singing, so I hardly see the point.
Jason Jarawy played a variety of characters, including one female — rather incongruous, considering his beard — with a certain stereoptypical flair, although in all his guises, he was certainly a strong, sometimes menacing foil for Helen.
I was puzzled by the sets, which were a combination looks-like-old-stone-walls and looks-like-stage-materials-approximating-a-set-and-plumbing-and-electricity-behind-a-set. Duh?
There could have been so much more happen in this play, particularly if it had been longer. It could have been about an epiphany, but it wasn’t; it could have been about the people of Lebanon, but we just scratched the surface; it could have had a significant, but it wasn’t. I think of NAC’s middle eastern offering, Wadji Mouawad’s Scorched, a superb production based upon a serious script, also a translation, but which deals superbly with a serious subject. It is sad that we have to say goodbye to the old Gladstone Street theatre with this sorry play, but them’s the breaks, I guess. Here’s hoping that GCTC, which usually offers a very pleasing experience, picks up its socks in the new theatre and hits us with some entertaining full-length theatrical goodies next year.