Review of Solstice d’hiver (Winter Solstice).

by Lynn on February 13, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Berkeley Street Theatre. Created by Groupe de la Veillée / Théâtre Prospero in co-production with le Théâtre français de Toronto.

Written by Roland Schimmelpfennig

Translated by Camill Luscher and Claire Stavaux

Directed by Joël Beddows

Set by Cédric Delorme-Bouchard

Lighting by Chantal Labonté

Costumes by Béatriz Arevalo

Projections by Guillaume Saindon

Cast: Marcelo Arroyo

Catherine De Léan

Gregory Hlady

Benoît Mauffette

Louise Naubert

From the Programme notes: Published in 2007, before the emergence of today’s known right-wing leaders, Solstice d’hiver (Winter Solstice) lays bare the imminent dangers of the rise of extremism.

The Story. It’s Christmas Eve. We are in the upper-middle class apartment of Albert and his wife Bettina. They are having a spat. Albert chastises Bettina because she never greets her mother, Corinna, when she arrives, saying that is rude. Bettina in turn is angry at her mother because she has invited a stranger to celebrate Christmas Eve. Corinna was on the train that day and was engaged in conversation with Rudolph who was also on the train. The train was stuck. Rudolph was a courtly, charming older man who helped Corinna pass the time so she invited him for the family festivities, because Rudolph was alone for the holiday. Albert was a little put out by this but he tried to be gracious.

They were also joined by Konrad, Albert’s long-time friend. Konrad was a painter who was doing a painting for Albert and Bettina. Albert is a writer who writes books about the Holocaust. Bettina is a film-maker. Corinna laments that time is passing her by and so is charmed by Rudolph who lavishes attention on her and entertains the others when he plays the piano. Rudolph has connections to Paraguay. And he’s a doctor.

As the play unfolds we learn that the characters have secrets. They exchange ideas, conversations and gradually we perceive the unsettling effect that Rudolph has on the others: some are charmed others are wary.

The Production, Comment. Director, Joël Beddows has created a gradually gripping production in which a seemingly pleasant stranger comes into the home and proves to be something else.

As the audience files into the space, four characters sit silently at a wood table to one side. One man faces out to us. A woman sits with her back to us. A man sits uncomfortably in a chair and a woman in another chair next to him has her back to him. The dynamic of the squabbling couple at the end of the table is beautifully established and when the play begins Albert (Benoît Mauffette) and Bettina (Catherine De Léan) verbalize their antagonization. Corinna has brought Rudolph (Gregory Hlady), a well-dressed stranger to celebrate. He is accommodating, charming, courtly and gracious almost to a fault to everyone as he tries to feel at home.

Konrad (Marcelo Arroyo) arrives in paint splattered coveralls. He is painting a piece for Albert and Bettina. He acts as a narrator at times. And often the cast will continue with the narrative. Many of them at times play the unseen child of Albert and Bettina.

The room with no doors is all white (a stark image by Cédric Delorme-Bouchard). A projection fills in a section of the wall where the painting will be.

Beddows places characters apart from each other illuminating their squabbling distances. The movement is natural and easy. There is a lot of drinking going on, some dancing, and gradually Rudolph poses philosophical questions about purity, both in music and in the world. One’s eyebrows start to knit here. Director Joël Beddows has injected an occasional rumbling sound that got louder and louder as a forewarning. It added to the skin-tingling as we listened to Rudolph sound off on his theories of purity and watched others just remain silent.

The ensemble was terrific. The production was bracing and a note of warning in this angry, hate-filled world of ours. Written by Roland Schimmelpfennig was writing about the rise of extremism in 2007. He could have been writing about today. Prescient playwright.

Created by Groupe de la Veillée / Théâtre Prospero in co-production with le Théâtre français de Toronto.


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.