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Paul Rainville, Tracey Ferencz & Kris Joseph.  Photo: Paul Toogood, Toogood Photography
Paul Rainville, Tracey Ferencz & Kris Joseph. Photo: Paul Toogood, Toogood Photography

Theatre Review: "Whispering Pines" at Great Canadian Theatre Company

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Whispering Pines is running at the Great Canadian Theatre Company in Ottawa through November 13. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng attended a recent performance and has our review.

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Reported by

Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

WHISPERING PINES by Richard Sanger, commissioned and developed by Nightswimming and developed further at GCTC, is a play of words and ideas rather than action. Set both in Soviet-era East Berlin in 1987 and in a run-down motel on the shores of Lake Superior years later, it deals with eternal questions: youthful ideals vs. reality, the value of art in understanding the world and most of all, what is truth.

Bruno and Renate, artists with dreams of a new world, are visited in their Berlin apartment by Thomas, a Canadian academic, who brings gifts and dreams of freedom – both artistic and personal.  The collapse of the Berlin Wall and the release of the Stasi file precipitate Renate’s search for truth during their reunion at Lake Superior.

The play, like their world, is fractured, moving back and forth from Brechtian address and polemics to warm naturalistic scenes. We see what Renate sees or thinks she sees, whether remembered, real or imagined as she tries to untangle alternate realities to arrive at a conclusion.

Brian Smith’s set reflects this fractured world with the contrast between it’s warm polished wood floor backed by a projection of a bleak pockmarked concrete wall.  It’s framed left and right with giant slabs of tree trunks. The only furniture is a simple table and three wooden chairs.

The projections, co-designed by Smith and lighting designer Beth Kates, flow back and forth between the sunlit lake and the concrete wall. The painting of woods that hangs in the East Berlin apartment superimposed on the lake projection is especially effective as is the red kite. Mr. Smith’s costumes are fine and Bruno’s final appearance is quite startling. Ian Tamblyn’s excellent music and sound add to the production.

Kris Joseph is fine as Thomas, although at times he’s difficult to hear. For instance, his explanation of Billy’s cell was almost inaudible and thus confusing. Also there seems to be no physical chemistry between him and Tracey Ferencz as Renate, which makes her motivation to have an affair questionable. Miss Ferencz’s scenes with Bruno are much more believable, as is the physical affection.

As for Bruno, Paul Rainville is one of those wonderful actors who finds the kernel of truth and humanity in every character he plays. This gift is especially apparent in Act II where Bruno remains real but subtly different in each of Renate’s alternate realities. He also adds some welcome humor and life-affirming guitar playing and singing to the sometimes rather static proceedings.

Director Brian Quirt has done a nice job of staging the play, using chair choreography to add visual interest.  However, with the exception of Bruno, we never get a clear picture of the characters’ emotional lives.  For Renate there is no resolution, and for the play, no climax.  WHISPERING PINES remains a play of ideas and words rather than one of human beings caught up in cataclysmic events.

On a scale of one to five the Great Canadian Theatre Company World Premiere of WHISPERING PINES gets three and seven-eighths solar panels. For North Country Public Radio I’m Connie Meng.

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