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Andy Massingham and Pierre Brault  Photo:Andrew Alexander
Andy Massingham and Pierre Brault Photo:Andrew Alexander

Theatre Review: "The Shadow Cutter" at Great Canadian Theatre Company

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The Shadow Cutter is running at the Great Canadian Theatre Company in Ottawa through March 27. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at a recent performance and has this review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

THE SHADOW CUTTER, written by and starring Pierre Brault, is a co-production of GCTC and Sleeping Dog Theatre.  Mr. Brault and Sleeping Dog specialize in new approaches to biographical performance.  Every time I see one of their productions I want to run to the library and find out more about the subject.

In this case it’s Ottawa-born sleight-of-hand magician and silhouette cutter, (hence the title), Dai Vernon.  Virtually unknown to the general public, in the early 20th century he became the center of New York’s famous “inner circle” of magicians.  He was the only magician ever to fool Houdini and spent his life in an obsessive quest for the elusive “center deal.”

The physical production is stunning.  At first Beth Kates’ set seems simple, with red velvet framing the stage containing a lone dressing table and mirror.  We soon discover that the red backdrop is actually a scrim with a few vertical seams, behind which is a doorway and a further backdrop used as a projection screen.

Martin Conboy’s artistic and magical lighting and projections carry us from place to place in Dai’s life.  There are a multitude of beautiful effects, but I especially like the scene in Wichita.

Andy Massingham, whose work I admired in ROUGH HOUSE at the NAC, is terrific as Dai.  Early on he has a wonderful twinkle in his eye that gradually disappears as he ages and his obsession grows.  With the help of Magic Consultant Greg Kramer, he displays great facility and expertise with the sleight-of-hand.

Mr. Brault plays everyone else in Dai’s life – his father, mother, wife, son and many others including Houdini.  I especially like his portrayal of Kennedy, the card sharper who holds the secret of the center deal.

Brian Quirt has done a terrific job of shaping and directing the play, which has a nice helping of humor.  I like his clever staging of the hospital scene and the stage pictures he creates between the seams of the scrim and backdrop.

Once again Mr. Brault has come up with a fascinating look at a fascinating character.  Although not entirely factual, from it’s unexpected beginning to its touching end, THE SHADOW CUTTER has the feel of an intense and emotional documentary.  We are left with a picture of Dai Vernon as a man whose singular obsession created for himself a life of only shadows.

On a scale of one to five the GCTC/Sleeping Dog Theatre co-production of THE SHADOW CUTTER gets four and three-fourths solar panels.  For North Country Public Radio I’m Connie Meng.

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