Albertine in Five Times, now on stage in Toronto, sees five actors portray a single character
Amid the frolicking froshies and fresh-faced students emerging from summer’s relaxing grip, Toronto’s Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse was full of one character’s tremendous life experiences. It’s not every day you get to watch the evolution of one character performed through the bodies of five actors, but Freelance Intern Productions tackles Michel Tremblay’s Albertine in Five Times with grace and gravitas.
Albertine in Five Times explores the life of one woman as she reminisces, digresses and discusses her history with different incarnations of herself spanning five decades and the memory of her sister, Madeleine. Tremblay’s script builds a story out of collective memory in a way that keeps the audience engaged throughout. Just when you think you know everything about Albertine, one of her selves comes out with yet another fascinating (and dramatic) detail that you weren’t expecting.
The show is a huge, deep dive into a single character, and I can only imagine what the difficulties of staging or acting this particular piece might be. How do you cast five different women to play the same person as a 30, 40, 50, 60 and 70 year old? I think directors Briar Knowles and William Wong answer this question formidably, having chosen actors who could harness Albertine’s internal workings, rage and pain in similar ways without being the same.
I thought all the incarnations of Albertine were wonderful to watch, but especially moving were Sarah Bridget Doyle as 60-year-old Albertine and Eilish Waller as Albertine’s 30-year-old self. Doyle’s extreme personality festered and bubbled from the top of the show, making the evolution of her rage and despair that much more palpable. She also served as some pretty unexpected comic relief. Waller had a certain enchanting quality to her portrayal of Albertine and I loved the murkiness of her character as the play went on.
I was also impressed by the staging, set design and lighting of the show, and to be honest those are usually the last things I generally notice. Knowles and Wong, along with set designer Heather Carlson, have built this show in the round so that each audience member gets a different perspective of Albertine. It works so well with the way Tremblay has built the play. I enjoyed Carlson’s choices to create five different mini sets in one space, punctuating their borders with doors on the outside. In the middle is a common space with a hanging picture frame that doubles as a swing.
Altogether, this production of Albertine in Five Times surprised me with how wonderful it was, since I wasn’t initially sure what to expect. The show felt intimate without being uncomfortable and I was enthralled by every moment. There’s even a little pre-show excitement for some audience members to interact with the actors (who start on stage).
I’m not sure how a non-theatre fan might react to this show, even with its polished performance, but if you are a lover of the performing arts, I would definitely recommend it.
- Albertine in Five Times is playing until September 19th, 2015 at Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse (79 St. George Street)
- Shows run Thursday to Saturday at 8pm
- Ticket prices are $10 for students and $15 for general admission. Tickets can be reserved online by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org, or are available at the door
- Talkbacks following Saturday showings
Photo of Eilish Waller by Tanya Hoshi.