Review: Liv Stein (Canadian Stage)

Canadian Stage presents the North American English language debut of Liv Stein in Toronto

Canadian Stage presents the North American English language debut of the German play Liv Stein by Georgian playwright Nino Haratschwili at the Bluma Appel Theatre, located within the St Lawrence Centre for the Arts.

This darkly chaotic story focusing on themes of art, obsession, and fiction is a tumultuous spiral of human emotion that, despite a few hiccups in the production, left me mesmerized and enthralled.

Liv Stein (Leslie Hope) is a deeply troubled woman. She’s a celebrated concert pianist who abandons everything — her joy, her family, herself, and her music — when her son Henri dies. In comes Lore (Sheila Ingabire-Isaro), a young and determined piano student, who enters Liv’s life with a very intriguing and inviting promise: coach her on the piano in exchange for stories regarding Henri, Lore’s lover in boarding school for three years. Gradually this deal forces Liv to battle her inner demons, reconnect with her music, and learn about a son it seems she barely knew.

Leslie Hope, for many, is a very familiar name. For the past decade, Hope has taken to the small screen appearing in numerous television series including NCIS, Suits, and 24. On stage, her presence is just as compelling. Her embodiment of Liv’s pain and desire to shut out the world as to wallow in her misery is palpable. Liv’s ferocity and deeply seated inner rage shines through Hope’s performance.

Ingabire-Isaro makes her Canadian Stage debut with Liv Stein. I remember seeing her performance at George Brown Theatre’s production of The Beaux Stratagem last spring, and her performance then caught my attention. It certainly seems like she’s off to a fine start in securing herself a noteworthy career in acting. Ingabire-Isaro plays Lore with a strong surge of youthful determination and tenacity. Like Liv, there is deeply rooted darkness within Lore’s ambition which is evident in Ingabire-Isaro’s performance. She certainly shines in her scenes with Liv.

On the other hand, I didn’t find any chemistry between Lore and Liv’s ex-husband Emil (Geraint Wyn Davies) when they have their affair. What is meant to be consensual felt forced, uncomfortable, and incredibly awkward, something my guest Jen noticed as well.

There were also a few technical aspects that jarred our overall enjoyment of the production. The scene transitions featured a musical interlude while the lights dimmed which felt like a completely natural transition until the music abruptly stopped and the stage went dark before the lights brightened and the next scene began. That jolt in the flow felt highly unnecessary and distracting. There was also one particular elaborate scene change that involved the raising of the chandelier and the lowering of a bed onto the stage. During this transition, a voice was clearly heard to say “removing the chandelier” and “bringing down the bed” which I’m not sure was deliberate.

But all of that aside, Liv Stein is a production that twists and turns in the most unpredictable ways. It left me awed and perplexed in the end. At the curtain call, I was left with quite a few questions unanswered but that, inherently, is part of the beauty of this show. You will leave not knowing every outcome and shocked by the grisly road this inevitably takes. And this is why you will love this show.

Details:

  • Liv Stein is playing at the Bluma Appel Theatre (St Lawrence Centre for the Performing Arts, 27 Front St E) until February 12, 2017.
  • Performances run Tuesday to Sunday at 8 pm or 7 pm on Fridays, 1 pm matinees are available Wednesdays and weekends.
  • Certain performances include either a pre-show chat or post-show talk back. See website for details.
  • Ticket prices range from $35-$99 and are available online or by phoning the box office at (416) 368 3110. Group discounts are available for groups of 10 or more.

Photo of Leslie Hope and Sheila Ingabire-Isaro by Cylla von Tiedemann.

3 thoughts on “Review: Liv Stein (Canadian Stage)”

  1. Actually, I’m pretty sure that “the voice” stating very loudly that the bed or the chandelier is lowered was intentional, it must be some safety measure in order not to lower them onto someone’s head.

    1. Thanks for the comment. To me, it felt like something they would have sorted out in rehearsal.

      Samantha Wu
      Editor
      Mooney on Theatre

  2. This is a very wooden, self conscious production telling an unnecessary story devoid of genuine human feeling with no emotional wallop whatsoever. Why bother?

    However I did appreciate the theatricality of the scene changes, not that they added to the credibility of the script.

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