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National Arts Center, Ottawa, Ontario. Friday, January 10 through Saturday, January 26, 2002.
With VINCI, a coproduction of the National Arts Centre and the Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg, Maureen Hunter has written a wonderfully imaginative account of Leonardo daVinci's family. Although little is known about his illegitimate birth and early childhood, Ms. Hunter has taken the few known facts and from them created a moving account of Catarina, his mother, and her relationship with his father, Piero daVinci and the aristocratic daVinci family. In an interview Ms. Hunter said she "had been trying to find a way to make this like a fairy tale." With the help of Director Dennis Garnhum and a terrific design team she has certainly succeeded.
The realistic costumes and abstract set, both designed by John Jenkins are wonderful, but difficult to describe without waving my arms around. The basic set, a wooden tinker-toy-like double spiral on outer and inner turntables is very effective. (At times the turntables revolve in opposite directions, which I'm sure gives Stage Manager Kathryn Davies and her crew fits, not to mention the actors.) The appearance of the apple orchard, the red ball, and the waterfall are moments of true theatrical magic.
Lighting Designer John Munro has emphasized this magical quality with his usual brilliant lighting. The sky on Catarina's mountain, the reflections in the stream and the candles and side lighting in the storm scene are especially beautiful.
Greg Coffin's original music adds a great deal to the production, as does his excellent sound design. It's always a presence, but is never intrusive. It's sometimes subliminal, as in the barely audible airplane sounds which accompany Bartolomeo's examination of Leonardo's invention.
The cast as a whole is excellent and plays as a true ensemble. Robert Benson gives a strong performance as Antonio, Leonardo's grandfather. He has one of my favorite lines; "Female chatter is the scourge of the new age." Craig Erickson makes Piero daVinci, Leonardo's father, believable and understandable in the context of his time.
Francesco, Piero's younger brother, is very well played by Paul Dunn. He's excellent at, as he says, "playing the cards he's been dealt." Fiona Byrne is also excellent as Albiera, Piero's wife. This is a role that could easily slip into an unsympathetic caricature, but in Ms. Byrne's delicate but capable hands is quite touching.
Bartolomeo, played by Gordon Rand, is the priest through whose eyes we see this story unfold. He has a terrific range - from the hilarious mime of his sermon about the seven deadly sins to the painful futility of his line, "I'll pray for guidance."
Patricia Fagan makes a wonderful Catarina, Leonardo's mother. She encourages her son to use his imagination, and as she tells Bartolomeo, "He sees things I don't even notice." Her final speech is extremely moving, and even brought a tear to this cynical eye.
I haven't said enough about the direction of Dennis Garnhum, but I'm beginning to run out of superlatives. He's done a marvelously imaginative job of bringing this play to life, and of highlighting it's magical quality.
My friend who went
with me said, "I laughed, I cried. What more could you want?" The
rest of the enthusiastic opening night audience seemed to agree. On a scale
of one to five, the National Arts Centre production of VINCI gets four and three-quarters
Royal Canadian Mounted Police. For North Country Public Radio, I'm Connie Meng.