Review: Fernando Krapp Wrote Me This Letter: An Attempt at the Truth (Canadian Stage)

by Dorianne Emmerton

Fernando Krapp Wrote Me This Letter: An Attempt at the Truth is playing at the Bluma Appel location of Canadian Stage. It’s their first show under the artistic direction of Matthew Jocelyn, who also translated and directed this show.

Jocelyn has announced a new mandate for Canadian Stage, which involves unconventional contemporary theatre. As the press release states they want to be “at the vanguard of contemporary theatre” and “question, challenge move and entertain not only with the tales they tell but with the way they tell them.”

Fernando Krapp is definitely an unconventional show: I have certainly never seen anything like it at the theatre formerly known as Canstage. Written by the German Tankred Dorst, the characters are allegorical clowns, who play out a fable about how love interacts with power.

Bluma Appel has always been a lavish, luscious theatre in terms of non-profits and this show uses it to its full potential. When you first walk in you see the whole stage seems to be covered with grass. During the show giant walls slide in and out from the wings and the whole thing rotates to change scenes.

It seems like magic even though you know it’s mechanics. One of the funniest moments in the show involves Fernando Krapp, played by Ashley Wright, firing a shotgun up at the ceiling and scoring himself a bear skin rug which falls down to become a set piece.

When the show begins Fernando has written a letter to Julia, played by Ngozi Paul, saying he is going to marry her because she is the most beautiful girl in town. It turns out her father, played by Walter Borden, has played a hand in setting this up and received money from Fernando in return.

This is very upsetting for Julia and she rails loudly against it. Then all of a sudden she addresses the audience to tell us that they get married, and then the action moves onto their married life where Julia is deeply in love with Fernando. The blowhard Fernando isn’t as affectionate as she’d like so she tries to make him jealous of her admirer The Count, played by Ryan Hollyman.

I don’t like realism. I tend to enjoy theatre that screws around with characterization and narrative and there was a lot of that sort of thing in this show that I did love. However it felt like not giving us any idea why Julia agrees to get married and then expecting us to buy into her love for the entirely unlikable Fernando left the show with little heart.

I find that heart is a significant factor in making a show compelling. During Fernando Krapp I often felt my mind wandering. Fortunately, I was always pulled back in by something visually amazing, either the actors doing impressive clownesque physical work or the set doing something interesting. One of my favourite moments involved fairly simple choreography with swiveling office chairs done under eerie lighting. Jocelyn definitely has a fantastic visual aesthetic.

I look forward to the rest of Canadian Stage’s productions, this season and after. It promises to have some exciting work for appreciators of avant-garde theatre.

Details:

– Playing until October 16, 2010 at the Bluma Appel Theatre, 27 Front St East

– Showtimes are Monday – Saturday at 8:00 PM, Wednesdays at 1:30 pm and Saturdays at 2 pm

– Ticket prices range from $22 to $80

– For tickets, call 416-368-3110 or visit http://www.canadianstage.com

Photo by Bruce Zinger