Review: The Andersen Project (Canadian Stage)

By Sam Mooney

The Andersen ProjectThe Ansersen Project – presented by Canadian Stage at the Bluma Appel Theatre – is written and directed by Canadian theatre icon Robert Lepage.  I’m a wee bit embarrassed to admit that this is the first of Lepage’s plays that I’ve seen.  It seems like the Canadian equivalent of admitting that you’ve never been to Stratford to see a show.  (Oh, wait, I haven’t ever been to Stratford to see a show.)

Yves Jacques played all three roles and was amazing.  His transformations from one character to another were seamless.  The Andersen Project is the story of Frederic, a Quebec songwriter who is hired by the Paris Opera to write a libretto for a children’s opera based on The Dryad – a story by Hans Christian Andersen.  Arnaud is the Director of the Paris Opera who has hired Frederic.  Rashid is the Moroccan janitor who cleans the booths in the peep show that’s in the building where Frederic  is staying. 

The play is primarily in English although as it progresses Arnaud speaks in French and there are English subs-titles.  Just as well, he speaks so fast that I think only a native French speaker would be able to follow what he’s saying.  He describes the project and the politics surrounding it to Frederic in a rapid-fire melange of French and English that is very funny – and nearly incomprehensible.  It doesn’t matter.

The production is quite beautiful.  Parts of it are almost a marriage of a movie and a play.  There was one scene at the peep show that reminded me a lot of an Edward Hopper painting – the heightened realism.

I enjoyed the show but I have to say that I wasn’t aware that  “(The play) explores questions of sexual identity, unfulfilled fantasies and a thirst for recognition and fame” or “prestigious engagement at the Paris Opera helps him to discover what defines, motivates and inspires him.”  In retrospect I can see why the program describes it that way but it wasn’t at the front of my mind.

I’ve written before about the intimidation factor in live theatre.  If you read the blurb on the Canadian Stage website you might find yourself thinking that the play sounds like a lot of work.  I suppose it could be, depending on how you watch it.  Me, I don’t really dig for deep themes but if I had read the blurb before I saw the play I probably wouldn’t have gone.  The moral?  Don’t let the blurb keep you away.

I went to the show as Megan’s guest and wasn’t planning on writing a review so didn’t take any notes.  Unfortunately Meg is a bit under the weather so…

My only real quibble is that the play is 2 hours and 15 minutes without an intermission.  There were at least two places where there could have been an intermission without disrupting the flow.  For the last 15 minutes people were getting restless and moving a fair bit.  There were also a surprising number of people who had to leave to use the washroom.  always disruptive, no matter how quiet and unobtrusive they try and be.

The Andersen Project is well worth seeing and you don’t have to do any intellectualizing, just enjoy it as it is.


The Andersen Project is playing at the Bluma Appel Theatre (St Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front Street East) until Saturday October 30, 2010
– Friday and Saturday at 8pm and a matinée at 2 pm on Saturday
– Tickets range from $27.00 to $99.00
– Tickets are available online or by calling the box office – 416.368.3110

Photograph of Yves Jacques by Emmanuel Valette