Broadcast text review: GLENN and TRUE

by Lynn on September 7, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

Friday, September 5, 2014. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 FM. Glenn at the Young Centre until October 1, 2014. True at the Citizenry Café 982 Queen St. W until September 13.

Phil Taylor was the host.

Good Friday morning. It’s theatre talk time with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. What do you have in store for us this week?

I’m going to talk about two plays.

Glenn by David Young, about Glenn Gould, the celebrated Canadian Pianist.

And True by Rosa Labordé, who also directs, about a father who says he was abandoned by his three daughters and comes back to them years later. He’s changed greatly in that time.

Let’s start with Glenn. The play is unusual in that it’s not a straightforward story. How would you describe it?

Playwright David Young shows us four aspects of Glenn Gould’s life: the Puritan, the Perfectionist, the Performer and the Prodigy, with all the quirky oddness of the man.

As the Prodigy he uses building blocks to crack the code of the Goldberg Variations—the master work that eventually catapulted him to fame.

The Perfectionist was always rethinking himself. He recorded the Goldberg Variations for a second time, finding new subtleties and ways of playing it.

The Puritan shows Gould as a charming, straightforward man who invites a prodigy from Juilliard to come to Toronto to record the Goldberg variations with him.

But then tells the young musician that he will then erase the kid’s part because Gould always wanted to conduct himself. He knows that while the boy is gifted, he was not as gifted as Glenn Gould was.

And finally the Performer, fitted out in his formal black tails, obsessed with the music, a mass of nerves before and after a concert, and always worrying about performing and catching the next plane.

Gould finally can’t bear the angst any longer and quits performing and focuses on writing and recording.

All four aspect of Gould interact with each other, bringing out the best and worst in that configuration.

Does the production show Gould’s many tics and quirkiness?

It does. Director Diana Leblanc has her four Glenns tricked out in oversized winter coats; fingerless gloves, scarves and poor-boy hats, all of which Gould wore even in the summer time.

He tilted his head to the side in a kind of quizzical pose. He was a hypochondriac. When a technician, who worked on Gould’s piano in New York, shook hands with him, Gould said it was too firm a handshake. The guy also patted Gould on the back and from that instance Gould was in terrible pain and went as far as John’s Hopkins Hospital in the States for treatment. It was suggested Gould wear a cast on the affected arm, for months. Gould went along with the idea, but there was absolutely nothing wrong with him.

He was a recluse when it came to strangers approaching to talk, but an inveterate middle of the night telephoner to discourse with a cherished cousin or friend on music or any of the other things that intrigued him, such as technology.

He had a relationship with a woman that broke up but he called her every day and thought nothing was wrong with that until she had to tell him not to call her anymore.

Leblanc has a wonderful eye for bringing out the oddness in the man, the quirkiness—hence the head tilt. But Gould was also gracious and charming in his way.

Mike Ross, as Gould the Performer, could have played the music, but why set a talented musician to play like this icon when you can actually hear the man himself by play his recordings as the background music.

I thought it a good move not to have a piano on stage or have anyone attempt to play just to sound adequate next to Gould.

Nuance is everything here. The piece is full of nuance for the man. I also love the quirkiness (that word again) of the set.

How is it quirky?

Martha Man designed the costumes and set. Downstage centre is Gould’s low, comfortable piano chair. It’s almost like a child’s chair.

Gould sits on it, crosses his right leg over the left, is ready to play and perhaps hum along to what he is playing.

In a far corner is a replica of the statue of Gould outside the CBC building on Front St. legs crossed, wearing a winter coat, scarf and holding the brim of his hat on his head.

The Goldberg Variations play in the background to enhance some scenes and to put things in context.

The four actors playing aspect of Gould’s life are some of the finest in this country.

As the Purist, Brent Carver is at Gould’s happiest place; it’s a subtle performance. As the Prodigy, Jeff Lillico, is a bundle of bubbly energy, keen to dig deep into the music to find the secret to the Goldberg Variations.

As the Performer, Mike Ross is polite but impatient with people who want to invade his space. But the passion Gould had for performing is there in Ross’s performance.

And finally Steven Sutcliffe plays the Perfectionist with confidence, a bit of aloofness and an almost elegant focus.

Brilliant work from all.

I have to mention choreographer Monica Dottor. She adds movement in which the four Goulds move in unison but also in their own way, the same but different.

Terrific production.

And True by Rosa Labordé. What’s it about?

It’s a remount of a popular show this summer at the Fringe. I’m never here for the Fringe so am glad it’s being remounted.

It’s written by Rosa Labordé and is about three sisters who shunned their father, Roy, because of some family secret. He comes back into their lives and he’s obviously changed. He shows up in his pyjamas at the café of one of the sisters. He carries a letter saying he has Alzheimer’s Disease. He doesn’t know who wrote the letter. He could have written it or his cleaning lady.
He is hazy on family history and continues asking the same questions with the same inflection in his voice, in keeping with the backward slide into senility.

Marie and her husband Franco met in rehab and married. She never wants to see her father again. Cece is traumatised as well. We find out just how and why. And Anita has time for her father and forgives him. This is part of the reason the girls are so dysfunctional I think.

The playing space is a long room at the Citizenry Café at 982 Queen St. W. Playwright Rosa Lebordé also directs.

We sit in the main room where much of the action takes place, but a lot of action is way upstage in another room and even outdoors. We see characters interact through glass doors.

If some action goes on in the front room we are also distracted to look in the back room and beyond. That’s not good for the production because the space is too great to include both the scene in front and the one at the back. You do the best you can with the space you have.

Is it based on King Lear?

It certainly has a familiar ring. I think it’s a story about a dysfunctional family. And much as I admire Lebordé’s writing in her other plays, I think this play is not her best.

Three sisters have issues with their father who comes back with a terrible disease.

How he deals with each of them with confusion and clarity is interesting in Layne Coleman’s performance. Shannon Taylor plays Anita with compassion. Sabrina Grdevich plays Marie with anger and contempt for this sad man because of what he did when he was well. Ingrid Rae Doucet plays damaged Cece with a mix of insecurity and cowering. And as Franco, Scott McCord is that loose-limbed charmer in the middle of it all.

I don’t find anything new is revealed about the situation. It’s been said before. Strong cast of actors though.

I would recommend it for the actors, the play, not so much.

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at Twitter@slotkinletter

Glenn continues at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until Oct. 1

True plays at the Citizenry Café at 982 Queen St. West, until Sept. 13.

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