Saturday, May 12, 2012

Jocelyn's games of Love and Chance at CanStage

Matthew Jocelyn and a crew of talented and styling people mounted a new translation of Marivaux's romantic farce to exceedingly mixed press here in Toronto this spring.

M. Jocelyn returned to Toronto after a lengthy tenure in Europe and he has definitely gone "Continental" in this production, emphasizing broad physical comedy and the clown aspects of commedia dell'arte from which Marivaux borrowed his plot.

Much of the set is a hall of mirrors and the production is shiny, stylized and superficial.  This is not wrong and not bad:  in fact most of the people in the small audience were laughing hard last night at the antics of the lovers. It's a three door French farce where the servants switch places with the masters.

Here's the thing:. many of the critics who have slammed the production didn't understand the style AT ALL. Jocelyn has done this as a stage cartoon to illustrate that love and passion can make fools, great big fools of us all. The servants channeled reality television stars to good comic effect. The relationship between love, lust and lies was the black water beneath the shimmering surface of the poetic language.  It was a smart production.

Not many actors in English Canada are well-trained in this style.  We train comedians at Second City and at comedy school. If you want to train as a clown you mostly have to go to clown school after you finish theatre school.  I see more work employing these methods on the outer fringes of the theatrical community than I do on the main-stages of English-language theatres.  Most of these actors in this production came here from Montreal where the French influence (at the National Theatre School for instance) is part of their training.  I admired Jocelyn's fresh approach even if it wasn't entirely to my taste. I found the actors and the production charming and amusing.

Do I wish there had been a bit more emotional depth, more warmth,more humanity, less cynicism?  Yes. Was this a bad show?  No not at all.

When you take great risks, you are going to fail on occasion, you aren't going to please everybody all of the time.  I have never sensed this as Jocelyn's goal.  I think he is truly trying to give us a theatre that plays on a world stage and not a world stage of revivals of American musicals and coffee-table book productions of "safe " scripts.

Here's the thing:  we have a commercial theatre in this city.  We don't need CanStage to be doing what the Mirvishes are doing. SoulPepper is doing repertory and revivals of older 20th century stuff as are both of our main theatre festivals,  Shaw and Stratford..

I have seen some of the best theatre I have seen in this city since I returned a year ago at CanStage under Jocelyn's tenure.  The work has been risky, cerebral and on occasion, electrifying. Some of it ( I Send You This Cadmium Red....Red) has worked brilliantly. Even the hot messes have at least been interesting messes. I do wish he would bring Atwood's THE PENELOPIAD to the mainstage.

Has he lost subscribers?  Yes.  Regime change should mean a shake-up, not more same-old, same old. We are never going to get younger people back into the theatres by continuing to do the  "safe" shows in the same way. When you do a renovation of a house or a relationship and an artistic director and an audience is a relationship, sometimes things are going to get worse before they get better.  I hope Jocelyn's board is going to take a deep breath and back him for the long haul.  He is a much needed breath of fresh air.

Ouzonian forgets that CanStage is not the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, which is the only big game in a town of 800,000 people. There are no Mirvishes in Winnipeg:  there is a road house across the street that also houses the ballet and the opera. MTC brings CanStage productions and Shaw productions and Stratford productions and does murders and comedies and musicals because they are the only big game in town and they have to offer something for everybody.  Toronto is not the same city or the same market nor should CanStage be programmed in that fashion.

MTC's mainstage season in 2011 opened with "GRUMPY OLD MEN: THE MUSICAL".  Yes, they have the most subscribers in the country. In Toronto, I can head to Stratford or over to King Street if I want to see a big, flashy musical.  I can't tell you how glad I am that whatever Joceyln puts onstage, that will not number among the offerings.

The very talented young actress I was with loved last night's production.  Jocelyn is the choice of a new generation of theatre artists and audiences.  I hope his marketing department can figure out how to work around the old guard press and get more young people in those seats.  Nestruck at Globe and Mail says subscriptions are holding.  I only wish him best and I look forward to seeing his next season.

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