The struggle of good versus evil, truth against lies and belief trumping mindless preoccupations—often visually characterized as white and black—brought George F. Walker’s fascinating insights and observations into a decidedly pale palette that left the script’s stark contrasts for another day.
Director Jennifer Tarver seemed far too content to let all of the colours—most especially the too-light-by-half delivery of the “master criminal of all Europe” and his curiously aged “young” henchman—of the show’s components (set, lighting, costume, soundscape, music, makeup) wallow in a pastel timbre that disappointed.
Draping Zastrozzi (Rick Roberts) in white throughout and—in Act I: Act II switched to literal skin tones and boyish beige—his three-year obsession, Verezzi (Andrew Shaver), in black (highlighted with foppish scarves and Rocky Horror Picture Show mascara) seemed a promising visual reverse metaphor in the beginning, but was soon belied by the tenor and tone of the dialogue.
Robert’s demanding portrayal of the Prince of Judgement (mediocre painters were personally dispatched by the self-appointed arbiter of taste to the other side of the easel: “These people came here to be judged … Is there anyone better at it.”—note: Walker abandons question-mark punctuation in the script) needed at least the range of a baritone if not basso profundo to instill a believable degree of “devilability.” (The pathetic fallacy of the frequent fear-reinforcing thunder and lightning cues was equally high-pitched and bland).
Shaver’s first appearance as the 25-year-old Messiah-in-search-of-followers had an engaging sense of fun: the “Painting in the Rain,” invisible-canvas sequence was an artistic hoot-and-splatter but swished much too close to a Friend-of-Dorothy undercurrent instead of depicting a deranged youth trying to flush a deadly crime of passion from his fragile psyche.
Providing the fabled umbrella—and the finest acting of the earnest troupe—was John Vickery’s Victor. Sporting black-and-white “vicarish” garb (convincingly supporting the philosophical and narrative tracks), the failed-priest-cum-twentysomething protector (with just a hint of something more between them) was brought to vivid life thanks to Vickery’s perfect sense of timing and deep understanding of the playwright’s intent. Consequently, it stood far above his colleagues’; the aptly dubbed “Victor” epitomized his name, rediscovering his lost God in a truly magnificent fashion.
The quasi-Italian accent rendered by Oliver Becker as Zastrozzi’s eternally-loyal lapdog, Bernardo, lacked consistency and, thus, added little to the effect (“Place: Europe, probably Italy”). Still, his look to the heavens during the prison strangulation scene was marvellously chilling: “Speak hands for me” most assuredly.
Stratford newcomer Sarah Orenstein as Dominatrix Matilda—just a few strokes short of sadistically sensual sluttiness) proved to be a “whipmaster” of the highest order (perhaps intentionally, Bernardo’s flaccid flicks were as unsuccessful as his attempts to impregnate the leather queen in red).
Amanda Lisman easily looked the part of semi-virgin (depends on whose story you believe: hers or hers) Julia, yet couldn’t exude the required innocence and naïveté to craft her oft repeated “What is happening to me” outbursts into a masterpiece of understatement.
Sound designer Jesse Ash filled the ear with crypt-rich Baroque harpsichord tinklings, a dirty-work-at-the-crossroads piano, classical string quartet, hot jazz and even an on-the-nose chorus of Handel’s “And He Shall Purify.” But—once more—that musical buffet never got into, much less under, the audience’s skin (Where was Kronos Quartet when needed?—cross-reference below).
Todd Campbell’s several fight scenes were hit-and-miss (quite literally when Zastrozzi’s mighty fist failed to find any target even though damage was done). A 60 Minutes score (providing the aural framework for the movement) wasn’t enough to keep the devil and his concubine’s pas de deux in sync.
Nonetheless, after the last body lay still and covered, it was to marvel at Walker’s spectacular inner journey down the always rocky road of accountability. Its timeless, universal message will be relevant for centuries to come. JWR