by Alex Rayment
It’s cold, slushy, bleak and the credit card bills from the holiday season have arrived. Happy National Depression Week everyone. It’s the perfect time for me to huddle indoors and dust off my keyboard for some good old theatre bloggin’. It also happens to be perfect setting in which to present the famous, anti-nihilistic French classic L’Étranger – the book on which Stranger by Praxis Theatre is based.
So for starters, go read the book.
It’s a great book, especially for you philosophy buffs. On top of that you will get so much more out of this play than without reading it. Considering the text, the troops at Praxis made the plot simple enough to follow. The characters are well formed, the scene changes aren’t confusing and the dialogue flows well.
L’Étranger is written from a mostly existential point of view. The descriptions in the book are all very tactile which makes for great reading but a hard thing to adapt to the stage. If you haven’t read the novel, a lot of those interactions are going to fly under your radar. Still the play was very honest to it’s parent text. A nod to the production team on that one.
A quick setting synopsis: A man named Meursault is on trial for a murder which he openly admits. The evidence of the trial however has more to do with the composition of his character surrounding his mother’s funeral than the killing itself. The stage design has three rows of seats on either side of a narrow strip of open stage – putting the audience in the position jury. Obvious, but not ineffective. Like I said there were only three shallow rows which puts you up close and personal with the action and the performers would, at many times, stare the audience in the face when talking – a cool touch that I can imagine takes some brass balls on their part (ladies pardon the expression).
The direction and choreography was as good as I’ve seen. Lighting and music just as well done. Hats off to the actors and casting department. The performances were very, very engaging. Doubly so considering they had half the audience as a backdrop as opposed to a set. The whole cast switched through multiple roles quite naturally with the exception of Meursault who was on stage from start to finish, reacting genuinely to his surroundings.
All in all a solid play. As a fan of a book it’s good to see an interpretation that fits or enriches your own. So if you like the book this one is a definite must see. By the way, I’m sorry James Murray for using a huge picture of your face and talking about depression immediately after.
Photo by Ian Mackenzie
– Stranger is playing at The Theatre Centre 1087 Queen Street West (Queen and Dovercourt)
– It plays Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm. It runs until Feb. 8th
– Tickets are $20 and can be bought online, at the door or by phone (416 763-9184)