I was not going to review this play; in fact, I have not reviewed any play for some time. But I must say something about this one.
For one thing, it is a world premiere of a Canadian play; and for another, it is at once brilliant and seriously flawed.
Paul Rainville adds another impressive milestone to his remarkable career. His Bruno is deliciously nuanced: tender and duplicitous, vicious and principled, believable and impossible.
Tracey Ferencz can shift believably through juxtaposed emotions as diverse as compassion and furor, incredulity and concupiscence and still provide a stable anchor for the swirling time shifts that the script demands.
Kris Joseph presents a contained character that works well as a foil for the mercurial couple with whom his character is enmeshed.
Beth Kates’ lighting, while ostensibly simple, very effectively illuminated the characters so that they stood out from the huge and impressive projected painting that formed the backdrop for most of the action.
Action is part of the problem in this script. The first line in the play, uttered by Renate, was a poetic exultation about the beauty of the lake. That was not a good beginning for me: it struck me that the playwright was more interested in anesthetic than in action, and that nothing was going to happen. As it turned out, in the first act, aside from the exposition about the characters and their situation, nothing happened except a series of enthusiastic wordplay interactions in which the characters pun at each other. As a writer, I enjoy wordplay; but the word plays in this piece do not contribute to the action and are probably too fast to be humanly possible. They certainly strained my credulity. At the intermission, I was seriously debating whether to stay for the rest of the play.
I’m glad I did.
In the first moments of the second act, action suddenly happens, when Renate discovers and reveals Bruno’s duplicity. Immediately, the play catches fire: not only is something happening, but playwright Richard Sanger ingeniously layers the action by interweaving past and present while revisiting the same moment, again and again giving a different take on it each time. It is as if we are seeing not only a depiction of the fallibility of memory, but an intriguing take on what perceptions the participants may have had as the events unfolded and as they remembered them later. We could also be watching different interpretations that are presented for the audience to consider: nothing is black and white. Seriously wonderful writing, acting, directing.
So I ask you: who was it on the production team of this play who should have spoken up, said to the playwright, “The first act goes nowhere; fix it or cut it”?
Sometimes an artist makes the wrong choice and the acolytes surrounding this sacred action of creation say nothing. It happens too often; it’s time somebody stood up and commented on the emperor’s attire.
That said, I return to the remark I made somewhere in the middle of this review: I am truly glad I saw the second act, because it is brilliant. Let’s not forget that.
Whispering Pines by Richard Sanger
Director: Brian Quirt
GCTC Artistic Director: Lise Ann Johnson
Tracey Firencz: Renate
Kris Joseph: Thomas
Paul Rainville: Hugo
Assistant Director: Leora Morris
Lighting Designer/Projection Co-designer: Beth Kates
Set & Costume Designer/Projection Co-designer: Brian Smith
Sound Designer/composer: Ian Tamblyn
Stage Manager: Samira Rose
Apprentice Stage Manager: Erica Morey
Head of Props: Stephanie Dahmer
Head of Wardrobe: Genvieve Ethier
Technical Director: Jon Carter
Assistant Technical Director: Darryl Bennett
Assistant Technical Director (Studio): Sean Lamothe
Head Scenic Painter: Stephanie Dahmer
Sound Operator: Jon Carter
Lighting Operator: Darryl Bennett
Crew: George Hack, Jeremy Paton, Sarah Waghorn, Sean Lamothe