by Guillermo Calderon.
Directed by Ashlie Corcoran.
A Theatre Smash & Arc Co-Production in Partnership with Canadian Stage.
At the Berkeley Street Upstairs Theatre.
March 28-April 16, 2017
(L-R rear: Greg Gale (Youssif), Dalal Badr (Bana), and Carlos Gonzalez-Vio
(Ahmed); Naomi Wright in front (Hadeel) (photo: James Heaslip)
Guillermo Calderon’s play-within-a-play has been upended
by Ashlie Corcoran’s unconvincing production that starts off competently,
only to degenerate into a hysterical, unconvincing melodrama. Calderon’s
80-minute piece (played through without intermission) is political allegory
with fine passion and moral weight. It interrogates not only the fictional
characters it deploys within the play-within-a-play (purportedly a Syrian
play in Arabic under the name ofBoosa found
on the Internet), written by a woman named Ameera Al Diri, but it also
interrogates the very nature, methods, and impact of political theatre
itself, as well as universal ethical themes.
This “found” play unfolds like a soap opera, in which Hadeel
(Naomi Wright) has to deal with marriage proposals from two men: her
boyfriend Ahmed (Carlos Gonzalez-Vio) and her best friend’s boyfriend
Youssif (Greg Gale). The four meet at Hadeel’s apartment in Damascus, and
the soap opera quotient is high, indeed, as Hadeel orders lusty Youssif to
leave and never return because he importunes her too passionately to accept
his proposal even though he is supposedly in love with Bana (Dalal Badr),
Hadeel’s best friend. Youssif throws himself on his knees, claiming that
Hadeel can love two men at the same time, though she insists that Ahmed
(whom she has known since childhood) is the perfect one for her. This part
of Calderon’s play (and it is the shortest part) is most entertaining, and
does receive the right sort of life-scale acting in general from the cast,
with Carlos Gonzalez-Vio’s jittery but masculine Ahmed, Dalal Badr’s
fractious and devastated Bana, Naomi Wright’s conflicted and contradictory
Hadeel, and Greg Gale’s anarchically charged Youssif.
After the cast takes its bows, the whole tone and style
changes, without the production’s director quite knowing how to handle the
tropes or the altered grain. There is a talk-back led by the director of the
play-within-the-play (Bana), and a Skype interview with the female Syrian
playwright, translated by her interpreter (Liza Balkan), during which the
soap opera cast realizes that they have misread many things in the script
and not understood some of the most significant and dire implications of the
action. So, there are new attempts at getting the play right. Ironically,
this is where Corcoran’s production goes woefully awry (despite rehearsing
well-known theatrical conventions, such as video projections and sounds of
static), descending into some of the worst clichés of melodramatic acting to
such an extent that my urge to laugh out loud was muffled only by my disgust
at the falsity of everything. It was as if the players were caught in a
radically new Pirandello play without benefit of a proper cast or a true
director. Seldom as meta-theatre seemed so literally absurd. And this is a
pity because Calderon (who is probably Chile’s best playwright) deserves
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