Har­ried RMTC adap­ta­tion throws cau­tion to the Wind

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Kevin Prokosh

ONLY an adap­ta­tion of Mar­garet Mitchell’s beloved Amer­i­can Civil epic tome Gone With the Wind could clock in at more than three hours and ul­ti­mately feel rushed.

For her new stage adap­ta­tion that pre­miered at the Royal Man­i­toba The­atre Cen­tre Thurs­day, first-time Toronto play­wright Niki Lan­dau cut characters, dropped scenes and cleaned up the 1,037-page novel’s in­her­ent racism so her play could tightly fo­cus on the se­duc­tive, schem­ing and unstoppable Scar­lett O’Hara. That’s a win­ning move as ac­tress Bethany Jil­lard is a be­guil­ing Scar­lett, ev­ery flirt and flounce in homage to a hero­ine to love or loathe. Frankly, Jil­lard makes us give a damn.

But in its haste to keep mov­ing, the un­fa­mil­iar with GWTW will be left breath­less try­ing to keep up, es­pe­cially to­wards the end when ma­jor plot points pass in a blur as the three-hour mark ap­proaches. Long­time fans will have an eas­ier time as their me­mory, bur­nished by mul­ti­ple read­ings of the book or view­ings of the all-time favourite movie, can un­con­sciously fill in the gaps that emerge in Lan­dau’s con­densed sto­ry­telling.

As ex­pected, this GWTW looks stylish as Tony Award-win­ning de­signer John Lee Beatty frames the ac­tion with great lengths of shut­ters that sur­round the de­pic­tions of life in an­te­bel­lum and re­con­structed Ge­or­gia. He em­ploys twin re­volves on stage so di­rec­tor Steven Schip­per can seam­lessly bounce from scene to scene and keep the story mov­ing. The night they drove old Dixie down and At­lanta burned is one of the vis­ual high­lights.

Lan­dau makes sev­eral tweaks to GWTW story and opens with a brief pro­logue in which a young Scar­lett is be­ing bathed by her ser­vant Mammy who ad­vises that there are two kinds of peo­ple in the world: wheat and buck­wheat and only the lat­ter can bend in a big storm and sur­vive. Those words come much later and from Grandma Fon­taine in the book.

The ap­proach­ing big storm is the Civil War, over­heated talk of which by suit­ors Scar­lett is de­ter­mined to douse. Even with her con­sid­er­able charms and van­ity, she can’t stop the out­break of the war be­tween the states or her coming per­sonal bat­tles over the ex­pected be­hav­iour of South­ern Chris­tian women, of wills with dash­ing block­ade-run­ner Rhett But­ler and with her di­vided soul. No mat­ter the fight, her corset is her ar­mour and is never pierced, no mat­ter her de­spi­ca­ble acts.

All of the book’s characters who don’t il­lu­mi­nate Scar­lett’s bipo­lar na­ture are cast aside by Lan­dau for her Royal Man­i­toba The­atre Cen­tre To Feb. 2 Tick­ets: $29-$73.50 at 204-942-6537

½ out of five play, and a lot of those who do still suf­fer con­trac­tion. The in­domitable and opin­ion­ated Mammy played with great dig­nity and pur­pose by Miche Braden is given a re­spect­ful but ear­lier exit af­ter the shame­less Scar­lett fails to stick up for her when she is tar­get of ugly racial in­sults.

Many of the other por­tray­als come across as colour­less in com­par­i­son to the glo­ri­ously be­jew­eled and be­gowned Scar­lett, who turns the RMTC stage into her per­sonal run­way. Her in­ept hus­bands Charles (Christo­pher Dar­roch) and Frank (Rob McLaugh­lin) make fleet­ing ap­pear­ances but Scar­lett’s chil­dren by them are non-ex­is­tent. Me­lanie, played as good-hearted and ev­ersin­cere by Sarah Con­stible and Daniel Briere as Me­lanie’s deadly dull hus­band and Scar­lett’s life­long crush, Ash­ley Wilkes, are solid in sup­port. Scar­lett’s dotty old-maid aunt Miss Pit­ty­pat, who de­fines the re­straints of her sex in pre-Civil War women, is given a swoon­ing por­trayal by Miriam Smith.

That places all the weight on the tem­pes­tu­ous re­la­tion­ship be­tween Scar­lett and Rhett, and the mer­cu­rial Jil­lard and Tom McCa­mus shoul­der the bur­den with South­ern com­fort. Their fiery repar­tee is a high­light, rem­i­nis­cent of ’30s screw­ball come­dies in which the bet­ter the ban­ter, the more con­vinc­ing the two were made for each other.

Scar­lett is the pro­to­type steel mag­no­lia, the belle with balls, and Jil­lard reaf­firms that through her cap­ti­vat­ing per­for­mance. She dis­plays a fear­less­ness that Scar­lett, an icon for all sea­sons, would ap­pre­ci­ate. The Toronto ac­tress can cer­tainly rock a frock glo­ri­ously cre­ated in sump­tu­ous de­tail by cos­tume de­signer Ju­dith Bow­den.

And she falls down stairs like she won’t get up, but it’s that face that again and again com­mu­ni­cates Scar­lett’s quick­sil­ver re­cal­cu­la­tions of per­sonal gain. Af­ter Rhett pro­poses mar­riage, Scar­lett is smart­ing from be­ing told he is not in love with her and be­comes out­raged when he presses his head to her breasts. Jil­lard’s pout slowly dis­ap­pears at his men­tion of a ring and her coun­te­nance sud­denly bright­ens with, “a di­a­mond ring — and Rhett, do buy a great big one.” That’s so Scar­lett.

Al­most as good as rene­gade Rhett is Tom McCa­mus, who cre­ates pal­pa­ble chem­istry with Jil­lard. His Rhett is en­tirely lik­able, ef­fort­lessly foil­ing the of­ten pre­dictable Scar­lett, know­ing what she thinks be­fore she does. His lan­guid de­liv­ery and pin­point comic tim­ing make their ex­changes de­li­cious to wit­ness.

The RMTC pro­duc­tion, while not the re­sound­ing success GWTW- lovers wanted, shares many of Scar­lett’s at­tributes that make her im­per­fect but ad­mirable.

RUTH BON­NEVILLE / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS

Jil­lard de­liv­ers a cap­ti­vat­ing per­for­mance as Scar­lett.

RUTH BON­NEVILLE / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS

Jil­lard and McCa­mus, who plays Rhett with lan­guid de­liv­ery and great comic tim­ing.

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