De­spite up­dated cast­ing, play feels dated

Toronto Star - - ENTERTAINMENT - KAREN FRICKER THEATRE CRITIC

1/2 (out of 4) By Ca­role Fréchette, trans­lated by John Mur­rell, directed by Ken Gass. Un­til Nov. 11 at the Berke­ley St. Theatre Up­stairs, 26 Berke­ley St. (cana­di­anstage.com and 416368-3110) and from Nov. 16-18 at the Burling­ton Per­form­ing Arts Cen­tre, 440 Lo­cust St., Burling­ton (burling­ton­pac.ca and 905-6816000).

Ca­role Fréchette wrote this play in 2000 dur­ing a res­i­dency of Fran­co­phone writ­ers in Beirut. The ti­tle char­ac­ter searches a con­flict-rav­aged Mid­dle Eastern city for a lost neck­lace, en­coun­ter­ing lo­cals who put her ex­pe­ri­ences into per­spec­tive.

Afe­male ac­tor usu­ally plays He­len, and a male ac­tor the taxi driver Nabil and other peo­ple He­len meets. John Mur­rell’s English trans­la­tion has re­ceived high-pro­file pro­duc­tions at Tar­ragon (2004) and Shaw (2012).

Ken Gass of­fers a new ap­proach in this stag­ing for his own Cana­dian Rep Theatre: Three fe­male ac­tors of var­ied cul­tural and eth­nic back­grounds (Ako­sua Amo-Adem, Zo­rana Sadiq, He­len Tay­lor) play all the roles, which Gass hopes will come closer “to rec­og­niz­ing the uni­ver­sal­ity of He­len’s jour­ney.”

But surely the re­al­ity un­der­ly­ing the play is that ex­pe­ri­ences are not uni­ver­sal and that the lives of peo­ple in the Global North and South fre­quently re­main in­com­men­su­rable.

There is a cool el­e­gance to Gass’s stag­ing, as the ac­tors share the lines, some­times over­lap­ping, some­times speak­ing alone, mov­ing through An­dré du Toit’s strik­ing beams of light in Snezana Pesic’s pret­tily flow­ing, silky blouses.

Against this beauty, the anger, pain and re­silience of the peo­ple He­len meets stand in re­lief.

But the years are in­creas­ingly un­kind to He­len’s Neck­lace: re­gard­less of the ori­gins of the ac­tors, it comes across as an at­tempt to as­suage guilt and cope with priv­i­lege by pro­ject­ing onto the ex­pe­ri­ences of oth­ers. If artists and au­di­ences be­lieve the play’s re­frain — “we can­not go on liv­ing like this” — then maybe we shouldn’t go on stag­ing plays like this ei­ther.

Why not reach into the deep (and vir­tu­ally un­known to us here in Canada) canon of plays by writ­ers from the Mid­dle East. Or why not cede the stage to new ar­rivals from Syria or else­where and have them tell their sto­ries?

Karen Fricker is a Toronto-based theatre critic and a free­lance con­trib­u­tor for the Star. Fol­low her on Twit­ter: @KarenFricker2

MICHAEL COOPER

Ako­sua Amo-Adem, left, Zo­rana Sadiq and He­len Tay­lor star in direc­tor Ken Gass’s up­dated pro­duc­tion of the Ca­role Fréchette play He­len's Neck­lace at the Berke­ley St. Theatre Up­stairs in Toronto.

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