the cosmonaut’s last message to the woman he once loved in the former soviet union

by Lynn on April 23, 2011

in The Passionate Playgoer

l-r Tom Barnett, Tony Nappo

At the Bluma Appel Theatre. Written by David Greig. Directed by Jennifer Tarver. Designed by Julie Fox. Lighting by Robert Thomson. Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne. Projection design by Jeremy Mimnagh. Starring: Tom Barrett, Raoul Bhaneja, Fiona Byrne, David Jansen, Tony Napo, Sarah Wilson.

Produced by Canadian Stage.

Loneliness, isolation, drifting away from family and friends, and lack of communication between people are some of the themes that are explored in David Greig’s dense and maddening play.

Two cosmonauts, Casimir and Oleg, have been drifting in their spaceship for 12 years on some mysterious mission. Their communication system doesn’t work and so they have not been able to contact earth for instructions. They are convinced that they have been forgotten. Casimir is desperate to fix the system if only to talk to his daughter, who he hasn’t seen since she was six-years-old. Oleg is desperate to get a message to a woman with whom he had a weekend affair, to tell her why he never called her after that, but is having trouble expressing his reasons. A Russian exotic dancer named Natasja goes from men to men always being disappointed. In a sense she is seeking the father she hasn’t seen since she was six. Yes, Casimir is her father. A Scottish couple are having trouble with the reception on their television and have little else to say to each other. The husband is having an affair with a young Russian woman, named Natasja. Yes, it’s the same Natasja—she does get around. There is also a Frenchman in Province who is a radio hacker trying to make contact with outer space, and occasionally receives fuzzy messages, not realizing it is the stranded soviet spaceship. All are desperate to make a connection; to communicate. All are finding it almost impossible.

While the ideas of loneliness and lack of communication are interesting to explore, Mr. Greig’s play is almost stultifying with his efforts to be profound. I have no argument with suspending disbelief to make a play work, but Greig stretches incredulousness past the point of patience. And at two and a half hours, he just drones on too long which does more damage to his play than good. Perhaps it’s a ‘little’ joke of that really long title, that we never do find out what the cosmonaut’s last message is, or only message really, to the woman he once loved.

How do you make this unwieldy, dreary play work? Director Jennifer Tarver does her best. She is a gifted director and has done excellent work elsewhere in smaller venues. The Bluma Appel theatre is perhaps the biggest venue in which she has directed. That said, it’s not the stage that defeats her, it’s the play.

There are interesting scenes in which the two cosmonauts float weightless in their spaceship, trying to hang on to their sanity and wits. Julie Fox’s sets are simple and efficient in depicting the various locations of scenes.

As a smooth businessman and several bartenders, Raoul Bhaneja plays them all with a sense of danger and confidence. As Casimir and Oleg, Tom Barnett and Tony Nappo respectively do interesting work, with Barnett being the more moving and desperate of the two. As the Scottish couple among others, Fiona Byrne and David Jansen handle various accents with ease. While Sarah Wilson, as Natasja the Russian dancer, does not.

This pretentious, dreary, overlong play required a lot of work, just to stay with it. A saving grace—I don’t ever have to sit through it again.

the cosmonaut’s last message to the woman he once loved in the former soviet union plays at the Bluma Appel Theatre until May 14, 2011.

Leave a Comment

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 D. McCaul April 23, 2011 at 3:20 pm

You’ve got your cosmonauts mixed up, in both the photo and the text. And you’re not the only reviewer to do this. The Toronto Sun’s reviewer did it too.

In the photo, Nappo is the one on the left, and Barnett is the one on the right.

Casimir (Barnett) is the cosmonaut trying to send a message to the woman he once loved…(etc.), but unable to find the words.

Oleg (Nappo) is the more moving & desperate of the two. Casimir (Barnett) is the one who is coldly dedicated to maintaining the secrecy of the mission.


2 Lynn Slotkin April 23, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Sorry D. McCaul but you are mistaken. In the photo it’s the viewer’s left and right as you look straight at the photo that indicates what we are looking at. The guy with the apparatus that he is trying to fix is in fact Tom Barnett who plays Casimir. He is the one with the daughter. The guy above him on my (our) right is Tony Nappo who played Oleg, is the guy with the woman he once loved, albeit for a weekend, who is trying to get the message to her. He is the one floating at the end of the play. D. McCaul, I know the work of these two actors very well. I know what they look like. It’s Oleg who is dedicated to maintaining the secrecy. It’s unfortunate that Tony’s picture in his bio does not have him with his moustache. The photo supplied to us also listed the actors in the way I did. Thanks for the reply.


3 Lynn Slotkin April 24, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Sorry, I don’t have guest bloggers on my site.


4 Tony Nappo April 25, 2011 at 10:25 am

Lynn is right. I am on the right. Too bad you didn’t like this one, Lynn. It is one of those shows that you either love or you don’t. Not much middle ground. Reviews that I have read have been fairly split down the middle but leaning in your direction. I just hope people, in general, decide for themselves which side they are on. Theatre Reviews shouldn’t, in the end, keep people away from theatres. Most theatres are empty enough as it is.


5 Lynn Slotkin April 25, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Thanks for this Tony. I am sorry I didn’t like the play better–but when all is said and done, we agree–we want people to go and check it out for themselves. The on-going worry and concern–how to get people to go to the theatre what with media coverage shrinking.


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