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Theatre Review: "And Slowly Beauty . . ." at the National Arts Centre

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And Slowly Beauty . . . is running in the Studio at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa through November 19. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at the opening night and has this review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

The English language premiere of Michel Nadeau’s AND SLOWLY BEAUTY . . . lives up to its title.  In a sensitive translation by Maureen Labonte, it tells the story of Mr. Mann, a middle-aged businessman whose life is changed by seeing a production of Chekhov’s THREE SISTERS.  He wins tickets in an office lottery and neither his wife, a high-powered real estate agent, his university student daughter nor his hip teen-age son are interested in going.

Playwright Nadeau has caught the essence of Chekhov’s play, and beautifully weaves the Chekhov characters in and out of Mr. Mann’s daily life, gradually awakening something in him that’s long been asleep.

There are wonderful touches of humor in the play as well, for instance the business meeting where Mr. Mann presents a re-structuring plan in corporate double-speak.  His audience responds only in sounds, similar to the teacher in the Charlie Brown films.  The effect is hilarious.

The play takes place on a lovely metal and glass see-through set designed by John Ferguson, complete with Chekhovian birch trees.  He and his associate designer, Tamara Marie Kucheran, have costumed the actors primarily in black, white and grey and have provided various metallic tables that roll easily during director Michal Shamata’a dance-like set changes.

Michael Walton’s excellent lighting highlights the play’s many mood changes and Brooke Maxwell’s music, which serves to thread the scenes and moods together, is especially effective.

Dennis Fitzgerald gives a splendidly sensitive performance as Mr. Mann.  For example, on the morning after seeing the play, he struggles to button the constricting top button of his shirt collar – only one of many subtle touches in his portrayal.  His final conversation with his son is a wonderful blend of poignancy and humor.

The three women and two men who complete the cast are all first-rate actors who display remarkable versatility in playing a multitude of characters, managing to keep them all both distinct and believable.

Michael Shamata has done a masterful job of staging and directing the play.  I’ve already mentioned the balletic scene changes, but there’s also Mr. Mann’s journey to work – a complex pattern of opening and closing glass doors – the entrance of the workers to the meeting and much more.  He’s brought out the complexities of the script and characters including the humor.

This terrific play shows that, as Artistic Director Peter Hinton says, “. . . theatre can maybe give us another way of seeing our lives.”  As the geese continue to fly, AND SLOWLY BEAUTY . . . flows from moment to moment to its positive conclusion.  It’s a difficult play to describe, so I’ll only say that the opening night audience gave the performers a well-deserved “leap to the feet” standing ovation.  It only runs another week, so if you can possibly get to Ottawa, it’s well worth the trip.

On a scale of one to five the NAC English Theatre/Belfry Theatre co-production of AND SLOWLY BEAUTY . . . gets five Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  For North Country Public Radio I’m Connie Meng.

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