A non-review of DOM JUAN

by Lynn on May 25, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Berkeley Street Theatre, Upstairs, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Molière
Directed by Joël Beddows
Set and Props by Melanie McNeil
Costumes by Nina Okens
Lighting by Michael Brunet
Sounds by Vanessa Lachance
Cast: Marcelo Arroyo
Lina Blais
Sophie Goulet
Christian Laurin
Pierre Simpson
Nicolas Van Burek

This is Molière’s play about that charming but despicable rake, Dom Juan (Pierre Simpson), a man who lived totally for pleasure without a hint of responsibility or conscience. He saw nothing wrong with compromising the women who fell in love with him, often balancing two women at a time, and then just dumping them because he saw someone else who interested him.

His faithful servant Sganarelle (Marcelo Arroyo) is loyal, true and disgusted with him. Sganarelle has a love/hate relationship with Dom Juan but can’t leave. Besides, there are the wages that are still owed him. So like a loyal puppy, Sganarelle serves his master unconditionally, although at times he does voice his concerns to Dom Juan about his behaviour.

It’s wonderful that Théâtre Français de Toronto offers performances in French with English surtitles for folks like me whose French is not good. The problem in this case is that I could not read 90% of the surtitles because they are unreadable and hence can’t comment properly on this story, or how the acting is geared to it. It would be like reviewing an actor reading the telephone book in a foreign language with all manner of emotion and passion, signifying nothing much if one doesn’t know the language. I don’t think that’s a good thing.

The surtitles (created and operated by Melanie Hall) are projected on a wide strip above and toward the back of the stage. Unfortunately Michael Brunet’s lighting either blinded me from reading the surtitles or they were so faintly illuminated you couldn’t read them. Did no one check this from every point in the theatre? Apparently not. And I had a great seat in the second row just off centre, house left.

When the audience filed into the space I noted a lit light bulb up left, behind the strip on which the surtitles were projected. That bulb blinded me. I hoped that when the production started the light from the bulb would fade out. Nope. So when the surtitles flashed up I couldn’t read them. I tried sunglasses. (Really!) That diminished the glare as well as being able to read the surtitles.

Eventually the light from the bulb went out but other lights just under the strip went on. One amber light was in the centre so that blinded the surtitles. Another was blue, again, it blinded me from reading. If the lights illuminating the stage were bright they washed out the surtitles making them so feint you couldn’t read them. The best was when the lights were dim and the surtitles were bright enough to read. I recon that was about 5% of the time. A few people left and while I can’t assume it was because of unreadable surtitles, I think it’s a safe bet.

I struggled to read the surtitles. I hate taking a press ticket and not write a review. I thought perhaps I can cheat with a Google search about the details of the story but was not confident that what I was watching was what Google said was going on.

I finally had to give up trying to make head or tail of the story and how Joël Beddows’ production served the play. Pity.

In future if surtitles anywhere are involved and not just Théâtre Français de Toronto, this is what I want: I want to be able to actually read them! I don’t think this is unreasonable. I want them bright and not dimly lighted. I would like the lighting designer, the surtitle operator and the director to watch the show from every angle in that theatre to see if the audience can read the surtitles. Perhaps re-thinking where they are in the theatre might be helpful. Opera Atelier does just fine with this because their surtitle strip is not at the back of the stage but closer to the audience (I know the Elgin theatre is deeper than the Berkeley Street Theatre, Upstairs. Work it out.)

Théâtre Français de Toronto, presents:

Began: May 10, 2017.
I saw it: May 24, 2017.
Closes: May 28, 2017.
Cast: 6; 4 men, 2 women
Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minues.


Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.