by Lynn on October 16, 2010

in Archive,Picks & Pans

Now that the Toronto international Film Festival is finished, the theatre season can begin in earnest. A few shows have opened, but the most anticipated is at Canadian Stage. One expects changes when a theatre appoints a new artistic director. But with Matthew Jocelyn, the new Artistic and General Director at Canadian Stage, the changes have been resounding. His first production is provocatively titled; “FERNANDO KRAPP WROTE ME THIS LETTER: An Attempt at the Truth.” Our theatre critic Lynn Slotkin is here to tell us how that went and to give us a little preview of the season to come.

Hello Lynn. You’ve seen a few of the opening productions: what stands out so far.

I found THE CLOCKMAKER by Steven Massicotte, at Tarragon Theatre, to be interesting in a Kafkaesque way. A timid clockmaker is asked to repair a clock for a frightened woman and enters into a world of violence clairvoyance and intrigue. A metaphoric play with a strong cast.

I look forward to BILLY TWINKLE, Requiem for a Golden Boy, the new Ronnie Burkett show opening at Factory Theatre tomorrow. Burkett is a brilliant artist. I’m also looking forward to THE LIST, at Factory, and THE NEW ELECTRIC BALLROOM at Tarragon Extra Space.

But of course the real news is the first season of Matthew Jocelyn the new Artistic and General Director at Canadian Stage. Change surrounds the place right down to the name of the company.

What other changes have been put in place?

No more funky CanStage, or The Canadian Stage Company, It’s now simply Canadian Stage and will focus on Canadian plays and international as well as trans-disciplinary works. But to his first production, “FERNANDO KRAPP WROTE ME THIS LETTER: Attempts At the Truth”, by German playwright, Tankred Dorst. Jocelyn has translated it and directs it. It’s a bold, brave choice, and Jocelyn has made his declaration of his intentions loud and clear.

All along the windows of the theatre are posters that say, THEATRE IS KRAPP, krapp spelled KRAPP. Before we go into the building a woman gives out yellow buttons that say THEATRE IS KRAPP. Jocelyn is beating some wags to it in case they want to be clever at the play’s expense with their pearly prose. Even the announcement to turn of cell phones is off the wall. We hear a loud buzzing like a saw. The announcement says to turn off all chain saws and cell phones. Then the loud buzzing resumes.

I think of the line from the Wizard of Oz “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto.”

What’s the play about?

Fernando Krapp is a rich man who buys things—including people. He sees a beautiful woman named Julia and sends her letter saying he wants to marry her. Krapp has bribed Julia’s father to get him on side. Eventually Krapp does marry her, and she does love him. What she needs from him is his declaration of love and he says he can’t do it, that she should know without his saying it.

Fernando is cold, confident and distant. He says he will never be jealous of her. Julia takes a lover and that ends badly, which makes her mentally fragile. There is a startling ending but it’s not sentimental. I find the play typical of many German plays— alienating, metaphysical, sometimes absurdist. And Jocelyn directs it that way as well.

How so?

It’s very theatrical. Astrid Janson’s set is composed of panels that slide and reshape across the stage. Lots of dazzling images. A rifle is fired in the air and a bear skinrug falls to the ground. In another scene roses fall from the air and land on a grassy wall. Some images are puzzling—Julia’s father appears in a door way flipping a yoyo up and down. No attempt is made to suggest intimacy.

Characters are staged at great distances. I think of grand opera and that’s how Joceyln has mainly staged it. Actors declare rather than emote. You won’t find Hamlet’s advice works here: ‘fit the action to the word, the word to the action.” It’s a deliberate decision, so faulting the actors doesn’t come into it.

Does it work?

It certainly is a challenging production. It’s the kind of work we usually see from international theatre festivals. The play is not conventional and I think the unconventional, theatrical production serves that idea. It’s for audiences who do like to be challenged and are open to having their perceptions of theatre turned on their ear.

Toronto sees a lot of theatre festivals that do that as a matter of course. Now we have a resident company that does that too. I am certainly intrigued by what else Matthew Jocelyn will present. We aren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto.

FERNANDO KRAPP WROTE ME THIS LETTER: Attempts at the Truth plays at the Bluma Appel Theatre until October 16.