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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Review: Sala XVIII

Davide Chiazzese in Sala XVIII (photo credit, Sylvie-Ann Paré)

By Gaëtan L. Charlebois

Andrew Cuk's new play, Sala XVIII is a dense, difficult work which is performed letter-perfectly by a well-rehearsed cast and that, my friends, is the problem.

What went drastically missing this evening was the crackle of an opening night, the excitement of the premiere and, finally, the spontaneity of a cast which is still wrapping its mouths and heads around words which flow like rich, red wine. What was missing was spontaneity. 

Don't get me wrong: the core of this work is a fine thing indeed, and it's presentation has moments of brilliance (the mix of Noh, Kabuki, stylized ancient Greek and modern theatre offers some very beautiful images). But then there are the words which, no doubt, are quite lovely on the page but which, somehow, seem to hover over the actors heads—just out of reach of human expression; when the play relies mostly on its words it has an arch, artificial feeling and one suspects that the actors—the human beings—are secondary to recitation of those words.

Back to the images, again, and there are enough of these to keep the evening flowing but one wishes author/director/lead actor Cuk would have ceded more space to the pictures instead—interpreting them, as he sometimes does, with the fabulously expressive bodies of the young actors who surround him. 

The story is a journey—a glass of wine becomes the Proustian madeleine except here we are not traveling simply through one man's life but through the lives of his ancestors as well. Fluidity is the principle leitmotif here; fluidity of identity, fluidity of time—everything changes and melds to tell a strange (and occasionally troubling) story of a gay opera singer looking for his roots in modern Naples. (The title comes from the name of the room in a Naples museum where the "forbidden" artifacts of Pompeii—some gay—were hidden away until ten years ago.) 

To that end, the simple set aided by as simple a lighting scheme—film, slides, some furnishings and three sliding doors—becomes a hundred places. The designers—Isabelle Boudreau, Peter Alec Fedun and  Peter Vatsis—work with limited means, but turn in a compelling visual component. (One quibble, some of the action to the side and above the stage is invisible to the back rows.) The young actors are all able enough and their training is evident, but for sheer energy Christopher Moore brought to his parts of the evening that vigour which was missing elsewhere.

Ultimately this work and this production, like the wine which begins the play's journey, could stand a little aging. 

Sala XVIII is at Theatre Ste-Catherine
Running time: 80 minutes

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