Review: Bella, The Colour of Love

by Lynn on October 24, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Studio Theatre, Toronto Centre for the Arts, North York. Ont.

Written by Mary Kerr and Theresa Tova
Directed and Choreographed by Danny Grossman
Composed by Matt Herskowitz
Pianist, Matt Herskowitz
Designed by Mary Kerr
Lighting by William J. Mackwood
Starring: Theresa Tova

About Bella Chagall, the formidable wife and muse of artist, Marc Chagall.

The Story. Bella certainly had a fascinating life. She was born into a rich family in Russia. Marc Chagall was from the same town/city and was born poor. They met by chance on a local bridge when both were out for a stroll. He was dramatic and kind of swept her off her feet. He painted her often. She was his muse. Early in their courtship he went to Paris to study art. She stayed in Russia to become an actress and also a writer. When they married she took care of him; became his manager because he seemed to be duped often. A dealer in Berlin cheated him out of his payment for 200 paintings! They had a daughter named Ida. He wanted a boy. They fled the Nazis and moved to New York. Bella wasn’t happy about that because she hated the noise, and feeling out of place. He of course had painting to occupy his time.

The Production. Mary Kerr designed the show and curated the Chagall images the are projected as a backdrop during the play and to reference points in the story. Theresa Tova stars and together with Mary Kerr also wrote the lyrics to many of the songs that are sung in the show.

The play opens with Bella sitting (posing really) in a comfortable leather chair wearing a dress with a white collar similar to the one in the Chagall painting, “Bella with White Collar” (1917).

A photo of that painting appears in the background. That goes on for the whole play giving us a glimpse of Chagall’s incredible output.

Tova often moves from the chair to assume a Vogue-like pose, or to flit, robot-like from place to another. Her delivery is deliberately overly dramatic. Why, is the question. If we are to get a glimpse into Bella’s inner life, then surely making her real instead of phoney should be the point.

There are twelve songs over the two Acts of the play. The lyrics for many of them were written by Theresa Tova and Mary Kerr. Quite often the songs just reiterated what we had just heard in dialogue. It made one wonder why the creators thought that songs were needed.

Comment. I think there is a kernel of an idea for a play here, but this production is so over produced it’s a mess. The music by Matt Herskowitz is annoying because it underscores everything. The writing should express the emotion and drama of the story without needing music to constantly accentuate the whole thing. To make matters worse, Herskowitz plays the piano so loudly that it drowns out Theresa Tova when she’s talking or singing. Her voice often sounds ragged and many of the notes in too many of the songs are out of her comfortable range.

Danny Grossman may be a wonderful choreographer but he’s not a good director. He has staged it as a dance piece, which it is not. All that flitting around the stage that Tova does assuming constant Vogue poses and robotic movement, it made no sense. And too often the staging is fussy and distracting. There’s an awful lot of fan work—Bella snaps various coloured fans open and shut with a whack here and there.


The show should be one act, not two. Rethink why music is needed. Get rid of the underscoring and even the pianist. Get a theatre director to direct it, not a choreographer who doesn’t seem to understand how to make a play work. Keep the images of the paintings as references.

Try again.

Produced by the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company in association with Tova Entertainment.

First Performance: Oct. 15, 2014
Closes: Nov. 2, 2014
Cast: 1 woman
Running Time: 2 hours approx.

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