Here we have an all-too-common paradox: superb actors performing a severely limiting script.
That David Fox and John Koensgen are worth seeing any time is not in question; I would travel some distance (as I did this time) to see them in a vehicle beneath their abilities (as it was this time) any time I could—they are that good. Fox (how does a powerful man that big make himself so vulnerable?) is certainly ready to give us a remarkable Lear; Koensgen (the range of the man always intrigues me) was menacing and intense as never before in my experience. Ben Meuser was not given much range to work with, but was infuriatingly naïve and focused, as required by the script.
But. Here we have a one act play that screams its limitations. Granted, it is a longish one acter (81 minutes); but there was simply not enough meat in the plot to sustain even that. Thérault gives us a narrowly focused concept: the grandfather (Fox) and his son (Koensgen) have to get the grandson/nephew (Meuser) to sign a paper, thus mysteriously solving everything. Everybody in the action is a villain: Grandfather (despite his melodramatic monologues) is an intense, humorless manipulator, Uncle is a menacing addicted gangster, and Junior is an egocentric snot. How do we identify with anyone here? At the end of the play, we are left to wonder if uncle will kill nephew, who is helpless, tangled in the net of the title (and tangled in the family politics, of course—yes, I got the metaphor). Sorry, I didn’t wonder. I had to find the washroom.
Now about the set: as is customary at GCTC, the audience arrives to see the open set, moodily lit. I had time to wonder about the symmetrically hung rather small fishnets all over the place; they looked more like Ontario home basement bar decorations from the fifties than Acadian fishers’ home decor. And the bar stuck out as a strange concept for the house. Of course its purpose was realized at the climax of the play when nephew is subdued behind it, in a directorial decision that I cannot understand. Here you have a visceral action that the director decides to put offstage. Except for uncle’s dramatic, almost balletic gestures as he is binding nephew, out of sight, behind the questionable bar, you cannot see the action. The uncle is played by John Koensgen, who makes his living designing stage fights! Is the director afraid of offending the delicate sensibilities of the audience? This is beyond me.
Staging required a strange set, with a blank wall downstage right for Gramp’s monologues, lit by a special that came on like a prison spotlight for these ventures into communion with the dead grandmother. The other lighting effect was the climactic explosion that must have been amazing to so illuminate all the windows. I am reminded of The Monkey’s Paw.
The characters, as I have intimated, are written with no depth and little motivation. Nephew does not have an inkling his uncle is a dangerous man, let alone a murdering mobster. Gramps has no idea his grandson is an obstinate selfish twit, nor that his son is willing to murder his own father. The plot is based on this total lack of knowledge on the parts of the grandfather and the grandson. Shakespeare’s Othello is a play with such frustrating and crucial naïveté, and it does not work, either. The program notes tell us that when this play was produced in French, the crab fishermen in the community rioted at the theatre. I don’t blame them; but I don’t think it was politics or the depiction of crab fishermen they were rioting about.
Performance seen: April 23, 2009 8 pm 81 minutes
A GCTC English world premiere
By Marcel-Romain Thériault
Translated by Maureen Labonté and Don Hannah
Directed by Michel Monty
Sound Designer and composer: Pierre Michaud
Lighting Designer: Rebecca Miller
Set and Costumes Designer: Brian Smith
Stage Manager: Jean Vanstone Osborne
Apprentice stage manager: Adrian McGrath
Lighting Operator: Jon Lockhart
Sound operator: Jon Carter
Head carpenter: Darrell Bennett
Head scenic painter: Stephanie Dahmer
Mike Keller, Kevin Kenny, Sheldon Poulin, Sean Ready