Text of broadcast reviews of DIALOGUES des CARMELITES and STOPHEART

by Lynn on May 10, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following reviews were broadcast Friday, May 10, 2013, on CIUT Friday Morning, 89.5 fm: DIALOGUES des CARMÉLITES at the Four Seasons Centre until May 25, and STOPHEART at the Factory Theatre Mainspace until May 26


1) Good Friday morning. It’s time for our theatre fix with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. What do you have for us today?


I have two very different pieces to review.

The first is DIALOGUES des CARMÉLITES (Dialogues of the Carmelites) an opera by Francis Poulenc set in France during the French revolution, that didn’t end too well for a quiet group of Carmelite nuns.The Canadian Opera Company produces it at the Four Seasons Centre.

 And the other is STOPHEART, a new play by Amy Lee Lavoie about five misfits in a small town trying to get by with varying results. It plays at the Factory Theatre Mainspace.


2) Let’s start with the Opera, Dialogues of the Carmelites. Why the opera?


I’m not reviewing it as an opera because I’m certainly not comfortable or as knowledgeable as I think one must be to talk about the music, singing and orchestra. But it is a gripping, emotionally taut piece of theatre as well, and on that level that’s what I’m reviewing.


3) What’s the story?


Paris, the time of the French Revolution and no one of noble birth is safe. Mobs roam the streets challenging anyone who looks aristocratic.

Blanche de la Force, is the daughter of the Marquis, noble birth, but timid. The world scares her. A servant’s shadow on the wall throws her into a screaming panic. She decides to become a Carmelite nun to escape the world she finds so horrible. Even then her strength is tested and often she shrinks from any kind of emotional situation.

Finally the French Revolution knocks on the Carmelite convent door The Revolutionary Government tells them the convent must be disbanded and the nuns not carry on any religious rituals. The nuns agree to become martyrs. Again Blanche runs away unable to cope.

The nuns are sentenced to death by guillotine. As they go to their death one by one, Blanche appears at the end, ready to die with her sisters in one of the most emotionally charged, compelling scenes anywhere.


4) Did the production serve the opera well?


The production is stunning thanks to director Robert Carson.He is a director who has supreme respect for the piece. He never gets in the way with clever invention that pulls focus from the work. We’ve all see cowboy directors like that. Instead his spare, exquisite production serves the piece at every turn. The detail is breathtaking.

The stage of the Four Seasons Centre can seem vast, especially when only three or four characters are in a scene.But Carson and his gifted designers, Michael Levine for the set, Falk Bauer on costumes and the original lighting by Jean Kalman, have created this large yet confined world. Light pinpoints singers so you are never in doubt of who is singing or where they are.

With a snap of light the whole back of the stage is full of the humanity of Paris…it looks like about 100 people up there.

They slowly travel across the stage leaving in their wake, the detritus of revolution, broken furniture, tables, junk etc. And when the scene is finished, they travel across again, quietly, magically clearing the stage of the stuff. The last scene when the nuns walk to their deaths, is unexpected in the way it’s staged but absolutely thrilling theatrically and emotionally.

The music is glorious.To me, the singing is glorious.

Isabel Bayrakdarian sings the part of Blanche—timid, frightened by everything, but formidable at the end. Judith Forst sings the part of the Mother Superior, a roller coaster of emotion and it’s wonderful. Adrianne Pieczonka sings the role of the Second Prioress, full of dignity, grace and resolve. They are Canadian opera stars. And they are terrific.


5) So I guess you liked it? And how about Stopheart?


And now for something completely different—Stopheart

It’s written by a young Canadian playwright named Amy Lee Lavoie. She has an off-kilter sensibility—funny but she looks at the dark side of things.

 The first play I saw of hers was Rabbit, Rabbit. A few years ago at Summerworks. It was about a troubled pedophile and a young prostitute.The pedophile earned his living as a clown at kids’ parties. Lavoie knows how to pin us to the wall and make us squirm.

I love that dual world—dark and funny. And she always creates the flawed humanity of her characters.I love the oddness of her work, the imagination, the fact that it usually leaves me breathless because of the fearlessness of the work. Stopheart shows us that certainly.


6) What’s the story?


We are in South Porcupine, Ontario. Lavoie has created five mis-fits who are connected in a way. Troubled, odd, trying to fit in.

Elian is a thoughtful, articulate young man who is conflicted. His best friend July is a tough, fast-mouthed young woman who loves him and is always chiding him by asking if he’s gay yet. This upsets Elian but she does know the truth before he does.

There are Elian’s parents; Goldie who is fragile with physical and mental problems, and Cricket, his unemployed father. To prepare themselves for Goldie’s eventual death, Cricket builds and decorates her coffin. She sleeps in it to get the feel for it.We get the picture.

Bear is July’s brother who has just been released from jail. When Elian sees him he finds the focus of his affection.

Lavoie has created quirky characters with an edge. Often her writing is poetic, elegant and skewered.


7) Does the production serve the play?


While I don’t think the play comes completely together- — more uncertainty regarding the characters could be better created in Act I in order to develop them in Act II–I think the production does serve the play.

Ron Jenkins is a gifted director who brings out the quirkiness. He has a sense of whimsy and knows the dark world too. There is a funeral at the end that is inventive, tender and evocative.

And Jenkins gets wonderful performances from this strong cast. As Elian, Amitai Marmorstein is an articulate, intellectual odd-ball, consumed with uncertainty about his life and place in that world.

 As July, Vivien Endicott-Douglas is a fireball of energy and anger. Insults and ribbing pour out of her like a fire hydrant let loose.

 As Goldie, Elizabeth Saunders shows us her mental confusion; her joy at what her husband has made for her; her fragile mind, and also her strength of character. She is fierce in her love. It’s a wonderful performance from a terrific actress whose work of which we don’t see enough.

 As Cricket her husband and Elian’s father, Martin Julien is quirky, jaunty, and grief stricken when he realizes how he hurt Elian’s feelings when the kid came to him for solace.

And as Bear Garret C. Smith is both mysterious and dangerous as the volatile brother of July.

 As I said, I’m not sure the play comes completely together, but I have a lot of time for Amy Lee Lavoie.I think she has interesting things to say, and I’m always eager to hear them. 


Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin our Theatre Critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at www.slotkinletter.com

 Dialogues of the Carmelites plays at the Four Seasons Centre in French with surtitles,  until May 25,

 Stopheart plays at the Factory Theatre Mainspace until May 26



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