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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Review: Ars Poetica

Noel Burton, Danielle Desormeaux, Elana Dunkleman

Carry Me Away!
Fundamental concepts of theatre are raised...especially in winter
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

As I trudged through the ice-slush to get to tonight's opening of Arthur Holden's Ars Poetica, I realized I desperately needed a mood change. I didn't need to roar with laughter (I don't even expect comedies to do that - and Holden's piece is billed as a comedy). I needed what theatre does best: take me and those around me away, make me forget the here and now, put me in a head-place where ideas and visions and emotions swirl together.  Sure, a good laugh would be nice too, but all I wanted was theatre that was theatre and not TV, movies, radio or a book...or now.

In this case, however, the stakes are considerably higher because it is called a comedy...

Ars Poetica was definitely theatre. Pale theatre, aimless theatre, underrehearsed, unpolished theatre - but theatre. All of the blame, once again, falls squarely on the shoulders of Guy Spring, Infini artistic director, who again (after last year's Joe Louis) is presenting a play that shows potential but is far from finished. In this case, however, the stakes are considerably higher because it is called a comedy and this requires a demanding rhythm that can't be faked - one which is either absent from the text or the direction - suffice it to say that it is absent.

For the first act of the evening the play clunks along (and I use this term literally as Veronica Classen delivered a mind-numbingly noisy set dimly lit by David-Alexandre Chabot) and we're not quite sure what any of this story about a struggling poetry magazine is really about: a father and his daughter? a young poet and her mentor/lover?  the Canada Council and its cronyism? art vs. life?

In the second act the plot finally rears its head and then runs off in 50 directions, none of them particularly interesting. The actors - especially Howard Rosenstein, Paula Jean Hixson and Noel Burton, are game but the others are left with roles that are written in ugly broad strokes and directed and performed that way.

The bottom line is: where is Infini going?

The clear problem is this: Holden (like his predecessor David Sherman and his Joe Louis) need a real development director who will beat them about the head and shoulders to create a solid work from one that shows possibilities. This HAS to be done before the work can proceed to production with a professional cast (which this is, despite appearances), and especially before an audience can be moved to come to this venue which is truly one of the ugliest and most uncomfortable in the city.

The bottom line is this: where is Infini going? Neither Joe Louis nor Ars Poetica make that clear.

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