What a difference a day makes! After a very disappointing “new look” Tartuffe in the Festival Theatre (cross-reference below) yesterday, it was not without a fair bit of trepidation that I took my place for the last time prior to an architectural redo in the Tom Patterson Theatre to witness David Edney’s fresh coat of paint on Jean Giraudoux’s masterpiece.
Happy to report that the new translation was only on rare occasions made more topical, showing proper respect for this timeless pillory of the greedy amongst us. And, in a stunning case of art imitates art, how wonderfully coincidental that I am nearly finished my first go at Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s monumental Crime and Punishment where killing a louse(s) is also a key plank in the narrative’s construction. Hear it from Madwoman: “Death matters only as much as the dead man’s life matters. The death of a good-for-nothing is nothing.”
Director Donna Feore—far, far away from her more typical assignments bringing the house down in the BIG musical each year (cross-reference below)—readily demonstrated dramatic/comedic smarts, peppered with a few bits of inventive movement (don’t miss the “suits” exchanging looks/seats in their first appearance; Stephen Cota doing the honours as choreographer) to the solid delight of the opening night crowd.
Feore was also blessed with a cast drawn from Stratford’s finest, making this production one of the best seen this season.
In the title role, Seana McKenna was at the top of her game, creating a Madwoman for the ages, employing droll—acidic on occasion—delivery that kindled memories of Shirley MacLaine firing on all cylinders. McKenna’s body language and ever-expressive visage became the delectable icing on this unforgettable characterization cake. More, please!
Scott Wentworth’s Ragman was also a performance to savour—notably his faux trial as President, nailing Giraudoux’s cautionary point of view to the unyielding cross of satire (also in the spirit of Raskolnikov’s “ragged” attire, but without the axe murders hanging over his head).
In the supporting roles, Ben Carlson was appropriately slimy playing The President (evilly aided and abetted by David Collins’ Baron, Ryan Wilkie as The Banker and, most especially, Wayne Best’s ever-opportunistic portrayal of the Prospector).
A highlight from Act II is the call-to-arms conference led by The Madwoman of Chaillot and featuring her fellow Madwomen from neighbouring communities. Constance has a worthy advocate in Kim Horsman as the caustic fur flies and the invisible dog Dicky, at times, seems to be actually in her loving hands. Also seeing and taking advice from those on the other side, Marion Adler is a whacky hoot bringing Gabrielle to hilarious life. Trying to make sense of it all and bring some order to the outspoken Madwomen, Yanna McIntosh deftly contrasts her three counsellors with style. The timing and interactions are most certainly on par with The Golden Girls at the peak of their long-running series.
The slight love interest is convincingly represented by Mikaela Davies as Irma, The Kitchen Girl and Antoine Yared, who renders Pierre’s most believable transition from suicide wannabe to passionate lover-to-be.
And a special shout out to Isaac Giles whose considerable juggling skills with a variety of balls and pins added much to the circus-like atmosphere of the zany comings and goings. All of the sets, props and costumes were brilliantly realized by Teresa Przybylski, her colleagues and workshop elves.
When it finally came time for The Madwoman of Chaillot to purge Paris of its willful destructionists, one and all unknowingly crossed the line, hoping for even greater success because, after all, they deserved a better life than the expendable louses around them. Somewhere, Dostoyevsky is nodding in agreement and swelling with pride. JWR