At the Berkeley Street Theatre, Downstairs, Toronto, Ont.
Written by Guillaume Corbeil
Translated by Steven McCarthy
Directed by Claude Poissant
Set by Max-Otto Fauteux
Lighting by Martin Labrecque
Music by Nicolas Basque
Wardrobe by Philippe Masse
Cast: Laurence Dauphinais
This is an astonishing, challenging piece of theatre.
The Story. It’s about the affect that social media has on five friends. From the press release: “Five Faces for Evelyn Frost examines how social media transforms human relationships while challenging the notions of authenticity and truth.” In this day and age of “fake news” this play is timely to say the least.
Again from the press release: “Meticulously crafting their lives around their social networks, five friends vie to increase their online status and worth, always pushing each other towards the extreme, carelessly flirting with indecency and the irreparable.”
Over time it seems as if they are each trying to one up each other even when they look as if they are socially responsible with causes etc. That makes sense because everything is put on their Facebook pages, Instagram and any other social media platform that will increase their profile.
The Production. The stage is neatly covered with all manner of clothing. Five 30-something characters, stylishly dressed, enter and individually welcome us and say they are glad we are there.
Each then rhymes off music, books, films and art that they like. Each telling gets quicker and quicker, with their lists getting more and more eclectic. They then veer off into nature, and more esoteric things that they enjoy. I’m wondering if this is an on-line profile for dating purposes. We see the cast use a cell phone only in one scene and that’s in the background. Terrific idea NOT to do what one might expect of people self-absorbed in social media.
Interestingly I don’t question if they are telling the truth about all the books they have read, or films they have seen because there are aspects in the telling that seem accurate and true. Or perhaps it’s generational. I don’t know anyone in my circle who makes stuff up about what he/she has read or films seen. Perhaps these 30-something folks take a synopsis of a book or film as their proof that they read the book or saw the film, not sure.
They constantly take selfies of themselves at various parties with various friends, in various pairings and in various poses. There are two references to a striking woman named Evelyn Frost. She is their icon for the moment; their ideal; who they aspire to be until the next icon comes along they want to emulate.
For a lot of 5 Faces For Evelyn Frost it looks like the group is adding to a disconnected list of things they like and share and compete with. But as they ramp up their activity, the show takes a decided dark turn.
And it’s never boring because you are drawn into what things they like and how they express it. One person says he likes Mel Tormé and Jacques Brel. It’s so odd a pairing that it makes sense. The characters are not named but each actor makes his/her character an individual.
There is the smarmy know-it-all who even pronounces the name of the Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez as Marquez would, complete with accent and the ‘c’ pronounced as ‘th’ for example. There is the party-girl; the laid-back young man who fancies one of the group and so on.
It’s directed with precision by Claude Poissant. Poissant has the cast react in various subtle ways that make you really look and listen hard. When one character mentions something another reacts with a hint of a frown or sad recollection. The full bodied character emerges from the ‘static’ of spouting lists of things they like.
It’s startling to see that these people who live their lives so publically on social media have an inner, unseen life that is affected by what is being said. Poissant has the cast react to moments as if in a jerky reverie; or later with a dance-like, salsa movement.
Comment. I think Quebecois writer Guillaume Corbeil is hugely talented (translated by Steven McCarthy—himself a talented actor and musician). Corbeil’s breadth of knowledge of literature, theatre both here and in Europe, music, the arts, culture, nature etc. is prodigious.
I love how I’m not sure if these characters have any sense of judgement about the quality of the books, art, theatre, music etc. they like. I love how I question their moral character when they spend time protesting and demonstrating—are they sincere? The playwright makes me wonder and ask. It’s refreshing to hear new voices from Quebec and I’m including the ‘voice’ of Claude Poisson as well as playwright Guillaume Corbeil.
This is a compelling piece of theatre for those who like a challenge, to be engaged and shaken.
Performances are in English until March 5, and in French with English surtitles March 21 to 25
If you don’t speak French do not go to the performance with the surtitles—you need to hear this in English because the information whizzes by and you need to hear it in a language you understand.
5 Faces for Evelyn Frost is a terrific thought provoking play and production.
Presented by Canadian Stage and Théâtre Français de Toronto
Opened: Feb. 16, 2017 (in English to March 5). In French with English Surtitles March 21-25, 2017.
Closes: March 25, 2017.
Cast: 5, 2 men, 3 women
Running Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.