by Lynn on January 30, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Nino Haratischwili
Directed by Matthew Jocelyn
Translated by Birgit Schreyer Duarte
Set and costumes by Debra Hanson
Lighting by Michael Walton
Sound by Lyon Smith
Cast: Marc-Andre Blanchard
Nicola Correia-Damude
Caroline Gillis
Leslie Hope
Sheila Ingabire-Isaro
Geraint Wyn Davies

Liv Stein is a cold, heartless psychological thriller involving emotional manipulation of various characters, with an eye-brow raising twist, given an odd production that keeps the audience at a distance.

The Story. Liv Stein is the first play of Nino Haratischwili who wrote this when she was 25. She’s now 34. It’s about Liv Stein, a classical pianist who has given it up to mourn her dead son, Henri. He was studying music but got brain cancer, came home to be tended for three months by his mother, and then died. Liv has not gotten out of her dressing gown (now filthy) for months. From what we are told neither Liv nor her former husband were great parents.

One day she is visited by Lore, a young woman who wants to study piano with her. Liv refuses initially. She has given up the piano and playing concerts. Lore persists. She has a proposition for Liv. Lore says that she went to school with Liv’s son Henri, and will tell her all about him in exchange for piano coachings. This is Liv’s way of holding on to her son. Liv agrees and little by little Lore insinuates herself into Liv’s life and that of Liv’s former husband Emile, and his new wife Helene, and even Liv’s manager, Simone’s life. Then Nino Haratischwili throws a curve ball into the works and tips the play on its ear.

The Production. Debra Hanson’s set of Liv’s palatial house is impressive. There is a large stylish wall most of the depth of the stage suggesting the size of the place. The floor suggests it’s made of marble. The furnishings are spare and elegant.

But while the design is impressive in size and elegance, almost nothing works in Matthew Jocelyn’s austere production to actually clarify the play. Since the play is austere, cold, heartless, and lacking in emotional involvement between characters, the austerity of the production is intentional. One wonders why? It’s one thing to alienate the audience from thinking sentimentally, as Brecht did, but Ms Haratischwili is no Brecht. A woman is in mourning for her dead son and we are not encouraged to sympathize or empathize, no matter how unmaternal Liv seems to be? Hmmmm?

The set is so expansive actors tend to shout initially until they settle into their playing. Furnishings are placed in such a way as to suggest nobody visits or talks comfortably with anyone. A chaise faces downstage with two chairs side by side, a bit upstage, behind the chaise. How is anyone laying on the chaise supposed to have a conversation with people sitting behind in the chairs? Presumably the person would be sitting in the chaise facing upstage, talking to those in the chairs? It still looks awkward.

In another scene Lore lies along a padded window sill and talks to a person behind her. Awkward. Or she lounges the other way and puts her feet up the wall. Odd. Characters flounce on the floor and sprawl for no reason. Characters enter and the lights snap to black then pop up to light the scene. What does that mean?

There are some accomplished actors on that stage not doing their best work. Geraint Wyn Davies bellows his first lines as Emil Liv’s ex-husband, telling her to get a grip. The rest of the time he just seems irritated. Leslie Hope as Liv seems bland rather than mournful. Nicola Correia-Damude as Helen is a petulant second wife to Emil. Sheila Ingabire-Isaro as Lore has not captured the layers of quiet deception or coy maneuvering. Flounce does not substitute for substance. Caroline Gillis as Simone appears more put upon than an accomplished manager. Finally Marc-Andre Blanchard as Henri provides the unsettling ending in a rather monotone manner. But for the most part this cast is flat, matter-of-fact, emotionless, and I think intended not to engage the audience.

Comment. There are echoes here of All About Eve or any other show business story of delicate treachery. I do not care about any of the characters, first because Haratischwili hasn’t written them for us to empathize with them for some reason and then the acting does not engage either.

I looked at it as just an exercise in non-engagement of a play that tries to be clever with its psychological thriller aspect and fails even there.

I can’t recommend this one.

Canadian Stage Presents:

Opened: Jan. 26, 2017
Closes: Feb. 12, 2017
Cast: 6; 2 men, 4 women
Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

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