Review: Casimir and Caroline

by Lynn on January 25, 2020

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Streetcar Crowsnest, Toronto, Ont,

Written by Ödön von Horváth

Adapted by Paolo Santalucia, Holger Syme and the Howland Company.

Based on an original translation by Holger Syme

Directed by Paolo Santalucia

Set  and costumes by Ken MacKenzie

Lighting by Jareth Li

Sound by Jeremy Hutton

Choreography by Reanne Spitzer

Original compositions

Cast: Michael Ayres

Michael Chiem

Alexander Crowther

James Graham

Veronica Hortiguela

Shruti Kothari

Cameron Laurie

Kimwun Perehinec

Hallie Seline

Caroline Toal

The Story. Casimir and Caroline by Ödön von Horváth, premiered in Berlin in 1932 with the political upheaval of that time affecting everything around it—the people, the financial situation, class etc. It’s about greed and the world turned upside down.

It now takes place today in Toronto and the same ideas apply—it’s about greed, mendacity, playing one against the other etc. in a corporate world. And the political situation is there in the background because we naturally put it there. In other words, it’s about the world turned upside down.  

The play takes place in summer. Casimir is an insecure man in love with Caroline. He is the chauffeur for a hot-shot in the corporate office named Rankin.  Rankin just laid-off Casimir.  Casimir imagines his girlfriend, Caroline will dump him. We soon find out she has more compassion and class than that.  But he sure challenges her with his jealousy, insecurity and depression.

Rankin the hot-shot is hosting a party on an outdoor deck of the corporate office. Rankin has a young man named Trevor give out popsicles from a cooler as part of the festivities. Trevor is the receptionist in the office.

Trevor observes a lot of bad behaviour. For example, Rankin seems to spend time sleeping with various women in his office and ranking them on a spread-sheet according to their ‘hot-ness.’ The word gets out and that has consequences for Rankin.

There is also character named Ellie who is fascinating. I don’t get the sense that she is on the bottom rung of the corporate ladder. Rather I think she is quietly climbing up the ladder. She is watchful at the party, sarcastic in her comments at the people there because she knows how they operate.  Nothing phases or surprises her.

The Production. Ken MacKenzie has created a simple but evocative set suggesting the party that Rankin is hosting is in full swing. Balloons are festooned above the stage. Some have fallen onto the stage. Plastic cups litter the floor. A tall round ‘table’ is stage right. It’s the kind on which people set their glasses or plates. They don’t sit at it, they lean on it if they want. MacKenzie’s costumes are stylish.   

Both the adaptation and the production are dandy.  It was adapted by Paolo Santalucia, Holger Syme and the gritty, smart Howland Company from an original translation by Holger Syme.  Often with all these collaborators the result might be a bit choppy, but not here. The language is vibrant, evocative and bracing.

Paolo Santalucia directs this with a clear eye and vision The cast trots on like so many prancing horses. The pace goes at a gallop (sorry). Characters are naturally breathless and it works because these are frenzied times. They are all trying to keep up and no one more so than Rankin. Rankin is played with fearless abandon by James Graham. Rankin is arrogant, confident, swaggering, condescending and full of contempt for those around him.

If I had a quibble I would say Graham might be a bit over the top. If Rankin is that wild at a party wouldn’t that have been noticed sooner in his job by his bosses? The thing that brought him down was his spread sheet ranking the hotness of the women in the office with whom he slept. That seems a lesser ‘crime’ than his behaviour to all at that party. Perhaps bad behaviour is acceptable but being caught in an indiscretion is not. Still Graham got me to ponder, think and wonder about it all. It is a mesmerizing performance. 

Casimir is played by Alexander Crowther as someone who is sweet but a worrier and that worry weighs heavily on his girlfriend Caroline.  Caroline, as played by Hallie Seline, is calm, tempered, compassionate and exasperated by Casimir’s constant insecurities. Seline is such a gracious actor and that suffuses her performance.

Rankin is swiftly brought down because of his indiscrete spread-sheet and replaced by Shira (Kimwun Perehinec). This is a performance of a woman dripping with confidence and a killer instinct. She’s a shark who swims in dangerous waters. Perehinec lobs a barb of a line at Rankin that pins him to the wall. She is focused and fierce. Also fascinating is Shruti Kothari as Ellie, the watchful woman who knows how to play the game. Ellie doesn’t miss a beat or an observation that will not serve her purpose in future. She’s sly. She could be the head of the place and replace Shira in a heartbeat.   

Comment. It’s interesting to see how the Howland Company has taken a play that originally depicted a frenzied time in Germany in the last century and adapted it to apply to Toronto today.  

The times are different but the similarities of the things that occupied people almost 100 years ago are the same things that concern us today—money, greed, jobs, love, success and getting even. Bravo to this feisty company that keeps raising the bar on quality with plays that speak to our times.   

Presented by the Howland Company

Opened: Jan. 16, 2020.

Closes: Feb. 9, 2020.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes approx.

www.crowstheatre.org

Leave a Comment