Vet­eran char­ac­ter ac­tors know how to chew up the scenery

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - Colm Mag­ner In the Wings

Vet­eran char­ac­ter ac­tors know how to chew up the scenery, says Guardian re­viewer

When the great play­wright Ge­orge Bernard Shaw first wrote “Mrs. War­ren’s Pro­fes­sion” in 1893, The Lord Cham­ber­lain’s Ex­am­iner de­clared the play “im­moral and other­wise im­proper for the stage,” and it was banned from per­for­mance in Eng­land.

When mounted in New Haven, Conn., in 1905, the open­ing-night au­di­ence gave rap­tur­ous ap­plause, but the next night the po­lice burst into the the­atre and ar­rested the en­tire cast. Now that’s what I call the­atre. So what ex­actly is this pro­fes­sion Mrs. War­ren dab­bles in that cre­ated all the fuss? And was it re­ally her pro­fes­sion that of­fended or the fact that Shaw did not con­demn her for it? You’ll have to see this play to find out.

Suf­fice it to say that when you’re in the hands of Shaw, you can be sure the writ­ing will be rich with ideas and dra­mat­i­cally ac­com­plished. The play ex­plores the ef­fects of eco­nomic dis­par­ity on women, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween a mother and daugh­ter at a mo­ment of cat­a­clysm, hu­man hypocrisy and more broad philo­soph­i­cal is­sues which can hardly be done jus­tice in a re­view of 600 words. But di­rec­tor Robert Tsonos shows such del­i­cate fi­nesse in bring­ing this play to life that it is likely the most sat­is­fy­ing piece of the­atre I’ve seen on Prince Ed­ward Is­land.

The world un­folds as cos­tume de­signer Bon­nie Deakin’s im­pec­ca­bly dressed ac­tors en­ter onto Wil­liam Lay­ton’s sim­ple and el­e­gant set, lit by Renée Brode with touches of speck­led turquoise light. The de­sign and tech­ni­cal de­tails in this pro­duc­tion are a les­son in how to do some­thing quite ar­rest­ing, with vir­tu­ally noth­ing. And that is

quite an ac­com­plish­ment.

The Mrs. War­ren of the ti­tle has made a good deal of money, some of which she has used to ed­u­cate her daugh­ter, Vivie, who has just grad­u­ated from uni­ver­sity and is spend­ing time with her mother and a small cast of char­ac­ters. Se­crets are re­vealed that drive this story to

a con­clu­sion rich with am­bi­gu­ity.

Leah Pritchard, as daugh­ter Vivie, proves with this strong and nu­anced per­for­mance that she has the tenac­ity to take the stage. She is as­sisted and sup­ported in that dif­fi­cult role by Jor­dan Camp­bell, who has an ef­fec­tively play­ful qual­ity as

Frank Gard­ner, the boy who’s a lit­tle in love with Vivie, and a lot in love with her money.

No less vi­tal to the suc­cess of this pro­duc­tion are four vet­eran char­ac­ter ac­tors who know how to chew up the scenery: Ian Deakin as Sir Ge­orge Crofts, Mrs. War­ren’s busi­ness as­so­ciate, is de­li­ciously

las­civ­i­ous; Paul Whe­lan brings a charm and re­al­ism to Rev­erend Sa­muel Gard­ner (a role that in less ac­com­plished hands could be a car­i­ca­ture); Jerry Getty has some ef­fec­tive mo­ments as Praed, but the per­for­mance is still a lit­tle on the sur­face; and Gra­cie Fin­ley finds the vul­ner­a­bil­ity, the steel and the mother in Mrs. War­ren. But there’s some­thing there still to be dis­cov­ered. And it’s a vi­tal part of the whole equa­tion.

Tsonos cre­ates stage pic­tures that help il­lu­mi­nate the mys­te­ri­ous grace that un­der­lies these lives — watch what hap­pens in the light, but also pay heed to the semi-dark in be­tween scenes as ghostly vi­gnettes ma­te­ri­al­ize, shift and then dis­ap­pear for­ever. Just like in real life.

The fi­nal beau­ti­ful im­age of Vivie sit­ting alone on stage in a lit­tle chair, un­der a muted yel­low light, strug­gling with the mon­u­men­tal de­ci­sion she has just made, is one of those mo­ments in which the il­lu­sion on stage trans­mutes mo­men­tar­ily into a shim­mer­ing, al­beit brief, re­al­ity; a re­al­ity that then takes hold of you and re­mains with you as you leave the the­atre.

With a script as good as this, these per­for­mances will only deepen. Highly rec­om­mended.

Colm Mag­ner, who is a mem­ber of the Cana­dian The­atre Crit­ics As­so­ci­a­tion, has worked as a play­wright, ac­tor, di­rec­tor and teacher for more than 30 years. His col­umn, In the Wings, will ap­pear reg­u­larly dur­ing the sum­mer. To reach Colm, email inthew­ or find him at Twit­­ings61.


Gra­cie Fin­lay is shown in a scene from “Mrs. War­ren’s Pro­fes­sion”, play­ing at The Water­mark The­atre in North Rus­tico un­til Aug. 25.

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