by Lynn on December 13, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the AKI Studio in the Daniels Spectrum, 585 Dundas S. E., Toronto, Ont.

Written by Susanna Fournier

Directed by Leora Morris

Set by Shannon Lea Doyle

Costumes by Alexandra Lord

Lighting by Kaitlin Hickey

Sound by Christopher Ross-Ewart

Cast: Aviva Armour-Ostroff

Susanna Fournier

Danny Ghantous

Chala Hunter

This is a gripping story of a Philosopher who was exiled because he was an atheist, his mad wife who he chained up like a wild dog and the dog tamer he hired to tame her. There also is the dog tamer’s brother. A play and production dense with meaning, historical implication and compelling theatre. 

The Story. The Philosopher’s Wife is the first part of Susanna Fournier’s mammoth The Empire Trilogy that covers 500 years of an imagined empire.

The Philosopher’s wife is mad and dangerous so he chains her up as he would one of his wild dogs. He needs a dog trainer to tame his wife and so summons one. Thomas arrives with his quiet sister Tereza. The Philosopher didn’t expect Thomas to bring anyone with him, let alone his sister. Then the reality becomes clear. Tereza is the dog trainer, literate and accomplished. Thomas is her illiterate brother. Women are not allowed to have such jobs at that time and so Tereza is careful to assume a subservient attitude until the Philosopher realizes she is the trainer.

Tereza goes about taming ‘the wife’. She is wild, dangerous and growls instead of speaks. It will be a challenging effort to make ‘the wife’ civilized.

The Production. The production is stunning in its simplicity and all consuming atmosphere. Shannon Lea Doyle has designed a large raised black platform that is the playing space. Outlines of rivers, terrain and areas of the Philosopher’s domain are etched or indicated on the playing space. The audience sits around the space. Lights are around the inside of the space. Kaitlin Hickey’s moody lighting also pours down but is evocative of the dark, sinister time of the play. Alexandra Lord’s costumes are rustic for Thomas (Danny Ghantous), Tereza (Aviva Armour-Ostroff), and the Philosopher’s wife (Chala Hunter) initially. The Philosopher’s (Susanna Fournier) clothes are befitting a man of learning and money—stylish, well tailored and maintained.

Because the actor originally cast as the Philosopher left the production a few days before the opening, playwright Susanna Fournier took over the part. The original actor is 6’1”. Fournier is diminutive by comparison. No matter.  By force of her will and our willingness to suspend disbelief we believe Susanna Fournier is a formidable, thoughtful, keenly reasoned Philosopher. Aviva Armour-Ostroff as Tereza is a force to be reckoned with. Tereza might have initially stood behind her brother, head bowed and subservient, but when it’s revealed that Tereza is the dog tamer Armour-Ostroff looks anyone in the eye and stares them down, be they imposing Philosopher or his viciously growling, chained up mad wife. Armour-Ostroff firmly wrestles the Wife to the ground and quietly, firmly says “Ok. Ok. Ok.” without a shred of sentimentality. Armour-Ostroff is ably matched by Chala Hunter as the wife, fearless, frightening, and eventually human. Danny Ghantous as Thomas brings out how lost Thomas is. He is sick, an opium eater for various physical ailments and frightened when his sister isn’t there to help and protect him.

Guiding this compelling production is director Leora Morris. The few times she has directed here (she works in Atlanta, Georgia) you are keenly aware of how gifted a director she is. She has put such a  stamp on this production of The Philosopher’s Wife. With Christopher Ross-Ewart’s almost constant rumbling soundscape and the fine use of the moody lighting, Leora Morris has created a world with turmoil just under the surface. At one point the Philosopher’s wife escapes and runs, gasping. The lights blink around the inside of the raised platform while the wife gasps for breath as she runs.  It creates an eerie sound in the gloom. So many images are so evocative.

Political intrigue is everywhere in The Philosopher’s Wife.  This is a world divided. Tereza and her brother are from the south. The Philosopher and is Wife are from the North. The Philosopher has written a manifesto on Atheism which would have been forbidden. He is waiting for the king who exiled him to die and then he can publish it. It’s a world on the edge of upheaval. All this comes out in this bracing production thanks to Leora Morris’ direction.

On a quibbling note, it does seem as if the play could have ended a few times. Perhaps some tightening in the writing is in order.

Comment.  Playwright Susanna Fournier has conjured a mammoth trilogy of plays about empire, history, mythologies, the nature of power and how various systems have bound us, mainly women.

One thinks of plays where women are tamed as if they are wild animals. The taming of a falcon is the metaphor used in The Taming of the Shrew when Petruchio tries to tame Katherine of her ill temper. Here Fournier has imagined the Philosopher’s wife as a mad dog to be tamed. One also looks at a man who would chain her and think she needed taming. Lots to think about as we wait for the next two installments of The Empire Trilogy.

 Paradigm Productions presents:

Began: Dec. 4, 2018.

Closes: Dec. 16, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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