Monday, November 5, 2012


JOHN COULBOURN, Special to TorSun
3 NOV 2012
R: 4/5

Yanna McIntosh, Richard Clarkin, Helene Joy, Jonathan Goad

There are many reasons those who love good theatre should be consider catching the Company Theatre's new production of Andrew Bovell's theatrically noir-ish SPEAKING IN TONGUES, which opened Thursday, produced in association with Canadian Stage on the Berkeley Street Theatre's mainstage. First and foremost, there's the acting — a quartet of fine artists, each juggling two or three characters with an easy understated assurance, weaving their way through a dense thicket of time and place, moving with such sure-footedness that, regardless of what the plot throws in their path, no one in their spell-bound audience seems to ever feel the need of the theatrical equivalent of a GPS system.

As Bovell ties time and space into knots, often staging two scenes simultaneously in the same space, at others, folding time back on itself to re-arrange the natural progression of things, Jonathan Goad, Yanna McIntosh, Richard Clarkin and Helene Joy move from character to character and from scene to scene with such ease and fluidity that their audience is never left behind.

For this, full credit to director Philip Riccio who, despite the complexity of the tale and the relationships, never seems to take his eye off the dramatic through-line, ensuring a smooth ride in even some of the plots most twisted routings, and only occasionally sacrificing dramatic tension for clarity as he leads us through the labyrinth Bovell has spun. That he does it all with such unobtrusive ease is not only impressive but refreshing in a world where too many directors seem intent on showily demanding recognition.

Despite Bovell's heavy reliance on dramatic coincidence, what starts out as a pair of couples flirting with infidelity is soon transformed into a dramatic thriller made up of equal parts "Whodunnit?" and "Whodunwhat?" as the playwright examines our inability to say the things we really mean to the people with whom we intimately share our lives.

To accomplish this, Riccio deftly blends John Thompson's highly effective open concept stage design and dark and eery lighting with an equally evocative soundscape from Michael Laird in a production that is starkly understated and often deeply disturbing. There are a few references to "going to America," that prove jarring in a production that, in accent and style, seems to have already arrived, but that aside, this is a smooth and elegant staging.

So, as usual in a world where unset gem stones are rarity, a production showcasing fine acting is also worth seeing for its direction and its production values as Riccio delivers on the early promise he showed in his production of Through The Leaves.

For many theatre-goers, however, the play is still the thing, and while actors and director come together in a strong showcase for Bovell's skills, in the end, SPEAKING IN TONGUES feels a little too much like a writing exercise — a brilliant bit of noodling from a fine writer that someday might be worked into a cracking good play. As it stands now, it's a memorable voyage in search of a destination.

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