by Lynn on January 16, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

Flesh and Other Fragments of Love

At the Tarragon Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto. Written by Evelyne de la Chenelière from the novel by Marie Cardinal. Directed by Richard Rose. Designed by Karyn McCallum. Choreography by Denise Fukiwara. Music and sound design by Todd Charlton. Lighting by Rebecca Picherack. Starring: Maria del Mar, Nicole Underhay, Blair Williams.

Plays until February 16.

Simone has planned a vacation with her husband Pierre in a remote part of the IrishCoast. The long-married couple has been drifting apart. Pierre tends to want to go off on his own. There are hints of infidelity. Simone hopes that this vacation will help bring them together.

But then Pierre goes for one of his solitary walks and discovers a young woman, dead on the beach. He tells Simone. Together they imagine the life this woman must have lived. Pierre’s description of Mary is sensual; his thoughts personal. Simone imagines a whole scenario in which Pierre’s thoughts towards the corps are erotic. Which leads her into revealing how that marriage is breaking down. It’s a wild segue.

They learn that the dead woman was named Mary. She had an affair with a man, got pregnant, wanted to marry him but was told (by him) that, uh, well, er, he was married. Mary left Ireland. Moved to New York with her young son and became a nurse to support them. Things didn’t work out. She came back to Ireland where she was ostracized by her family and friends. And now she has been found drowned on the beach.

Out of this discovery Pierre muses on the woman; philosophises on marriage, fidelity, Simone, their marriage, his annoyances, peeves. Simone also digs deep to reveal her disappointments in life and her marriage with Pierre. Deep seated resentments are dug up. The marriage is obviously in trouble. And something is not right about Simone either.

One of Evelyne de la Chenelière’s previous works is the moving Bashir Lazar about a grieving widower trying to cope with the death of his family in the Middle East, while now settled in Montreal, working as a supply teacher. It is heart wrenching.   De la Chenelière knows her way around the wounded heart; the troubled soul; broken relationships. Her writing is poetic, lyrical, and elegant.

She certainly has her work cut out for her here, adapting Marie Cardinal’s introspective, philosophical novel. It does not lend itself easily to the play form. While there are opposing ideas between the married couple, there is little drama. For much of the play it sounds like philosophising about all manner of things that don’t require much philosophising. Somehow I get the sense that Pierre could talk for hours about the pros and cons of rotini pasta vs fusilli and Simone would be right there with her own two cents. It does not make for riveting drama.

That said director Richard Rose has created the isolated, rocky, beautiful world of the wildness of the Irish coast. Karyn McCallum’s darkish green set of what looks like the rough green of Ireland reflected in the water, is wonderful. The body lies on the stony shore. We hear the sea crashing on the shore. Rebecca Picherack’s lighting is muted. The sense of being away from everything is palpable.

Separation is also palpable in Rose’s production. At the beginning when Pierre and Simone are talking to each other they are sitting almost at opposite ends of the stage. The only closeness is when they approach the body and they are both close to it, but not necessarily to each to each other. Pierre often looks out to sea with his back to Simone. She tries to get close to him but he moves away. The estrangement is beautifully realized by Rose. And then at the end, when Pierre realizes there is something terribly wrong with Simone, closeness returns to this couple. It might be too late. In the subtlest of physical business, Rose establishes for us that there is something no quite right here and that Pierre will be there for Simone.

The acting of the cast of three is very strong. As Simone, Maria del Mar is almost haunted by her loneliness and longing for her husband. As Pierre, Blair Williams is that dashing, distant kind of man attractive to many; loved by one woman, and it doesn’t seem to be enough. Pierre too has his own sense of unease. He seems at odds with himself if not that marriage. As Mary, the person who brings them together, Nicole Underhay is the feisty Irish woman who has firm plans, resolve to put them into play, but a sad realization that it won’t work out. Her Irish accent complete with soft consonants is spot on.

Terrific production of a work that might be best left as a novel.

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