by Lynn on March 10, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Roland Schimmelpfennig

Translated by David Tushingham

Directed by Alan Dilworth

Set, video, and lighting by Lorenzo Savoini

Costume by Gillian Gallow

Sound by Debashis Sinha

Cast: Akosua Amo-Adem

Alana Bridgewater

Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster

Laura Condlln

Frank Cox-O’Connell

Jakob Ehman

Kyra Harper

Stuart Hughes

Diego Matamoros

Michelle Monteith

A short but tediously repetitive play noting the many and various versions of the myth of Idomeneus presented by a cast that are dressed, made up and act like zombies who  just declare the stories. Deconstructing a myth? I don’t think so.

The Story. Idomeneus by Roland Schimmelpfennig and translated by David Tushingham, is based on a story in Greek mythology about Idomeneus King of Crete and his hard trip home from fighting in the Trojan War after ten years. He set out with 80 ships and their crews and during a terrible storm all the ships and their crews but his were lost.  He prayed to Poseidon, the god of the sea, for help and said that if he saved him and his men he would sacrifice the first person he saw after he landed, in his honour. This was a terrible promise.

The Production. Lorenzo Savoini’s set is a gloomy, dark world with a back wall of grey and the floor is a layer of uneven dirt (or so it appears). Gillian Gallow has designed the grey costumes so that the cast look like they are stone. Even their make-up is grey making them look like zombies or the walking dead.

The cast of ten play a nameless chorus who tell the story, often taking on individual parts of the story in all its variations. You just have to know who Stuart Hughes is when he plays Idomeneus, or Michelle Monteith when she plays Meda, Idomeneus’ wife, or Jakob Ehman when he plays Idomeneus’ son.

Director Alan Dilworth has staged the cast to stand in a line and come forward and declare their part of the story. It is without passion, emotion or engagement. It of course is a director’s choice and it’s deadly in the context of a play.

To ‘deadly’ please add ‘confusion’ when an unnamed character (played by Frank Cox-O’Connell) comments after various declarations of the story, “that’s not what happened”.  I was waiting for him to say: “That’s fake news.” I’m also waiting to find out who he is and how he knows, ‘that’s not what happened.” Such an explanation is not forthcoming.  Is playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig blurring the lines between fiction/myth and fact? Then why pick a malleable myth to do it? I can appreciate taking a fact and twisting it out of proportion to make a point but this isn’t it. This poses another problem with this production—storytelling that makes no sense presented without a sense of drama.

When the scenes change there is a sound (Debashis Sinha) of static as in radio static with a flash of light. Does this mean that we are listening to a radio play? In these quick scene changes director Alan Dilworth has the cast rushing with urgency from one area to another—the reason of which is mystifying—but at least there is a sense of drama if only in the scene changes. Again, why? Truly, folks, I’m trying hard to make sense of this incomprehensible, frustrating production.

The result is a less than satisfying play in a deadly production—no pun intended with that walking dead reference.

Comment. Over the years there have been many interpretations of the Trojan War story and its off-shoots. It’s a myth after all and so you can interpret it in many and various ways. The problem is that Schimmelpfennig has put the many and various interpretations in this one short play—it lasts about 1 hour and 15 minutes. The storytelling is very repetitive and that tends to make the whole thing tedious even more than before.

And it you aren’t familiar with the story of the Trojan War and the many players then confusion will arise. I can imagine the uninitiated with the background of the story wondering of what country is this king, and how many kings are there—there seem to be so many—and who is the daughter of whom and why was she killed? And on and on. I flippantly thought of all the begats in the bible read at warp speed and everybody was expected to keep it all straight.

And what does it say about a production when a full insert in the program outlines “Who Was Idomeneus” giving the story, and the players in some cases and the background? It speaks volumes about the inadequacy of the play by the playwright.

I am also finding that I’m commenting more and more on program notes, they appear so ill placed of late. In the program note for Idomeneus the writer notes that the characters find ‘the “facts” are fluid’ (this is fiction I have to restate) and the writer even takes this comment to equate with the upheaval going on at Soulpepper. Uh, no. No. Absolutely no. This production is frustrating in every single way.

Presented by Soulpepper Theatre Company

 Opened: March 8, 2018.

Closes: March 24, 2018.

Running Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

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