Review: Swan Song of Maria (A Tragic Fairy Tale) Threshold Theatre and El Destino Productions-Next Stage Theatre Festival

Soulful Story Strikes a Chord with Toronto Audiences

By Adelina Fabiano

A tragic story indeed, Swan Song of Maria ( A Tragic Fairy Tale), co-produced by El Destino Productions and Threshold Theatre as part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival at the Factory Theatre Studio, is a moving account about love and loss, and the unbearable weight of suffering. Beautifully written by Carol Cece Anderson and intricately staged by Mark Cassidy, this play speaks of the human experience in a profound way.

The play tells the story of an interracial couple living in Toronto, whose idealistic views on love and life have been challenged as the aging couple begin to cope with the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Paralleling their own 40 year relationship, is the tale of Maria, a white Hispanic ballerina living in Cuba, with dreams of her own to pursue.

With a fine cast of passionate performers, tunes from Swan Lake in the background, a rich and original script, and a captivating ballerina pirouetting and interweaving throughout the story and stage, Swan Song of Maria certainly won’t be playwright Carol Cece Anderson’s last piece of work.

The story opens quite powerfully with Jillian (Lili Francks) staring aimlessly into the audience as Jillian’s husband Joe (John Blackwood) comes onto the stage with a blood soaked cloth. We immediately learn that Jillian’s illness is progressively getting worse. John devotedly caresses and tends to her wound as he continues to be her relentless caregiver.

Both central characters, John Blackwood and Lili Francks play their roles with intensity, sincerity and strength. Lili Francks’ portrayal of Jillian as an aging tap dancer discovering her mental demise is highly emotional and honest. John Blackwood, as the idealistic and optimistic aspiring playwright and loving husband is tender and truthful. Together, they create a very realistic and human representation of a once idealistic couple presented with life’s unpredictability.

The staging of the play blends scenes of Jillian and Joe’s past and present experiences with dance sequences from a ballerina living in Communist Cuba. The ballerina Maria, also Joe’s muse, played by the skilful Stephanie Hutchinson performs Roberto Campanella’s striking choreography to perfection.

I loved the integrated plots between Joe and Jillian’s volatile relationship, and Joe’s past infatuation with Maria, along the backdrop of the beloved story of Swan Lake. Intelligently, playwright Carol Cece Anderson not only re-imagines the classic story of Swan Lake integrating it into the plot of Jillian and Joe’s love story coupled with Maria’s, but at the same time gives us a glimpse of the real Cuba that exists.

The simple set design was effective. The architectural louvre used as a main stage prop was brilliant. The overlapping slats not only created an interesting lighting effect but were used by the actors and dancer as Jillian’s kitchen and as the ballerina’s studio window, as the play transitioned from place and time.

The live musical arrangement performed by pianist Hilario Duran was a lovely accompaniment to the dancer’s movement, combining melodies from Swan Lake with his own touch of classical music and cuban jazz. Hilaro Duran clearly held his own as the one-man orchestra.

Mark Cassidy’s direction is simply superb as the characters move from past to present, Toronto to Cuba, slowly revealing to us their emotional journeys from start to finish.

As I watched the show on opening night, I can’t help but think of my husband sitting next to me. The two of us recently married, at the start of our life together, wondering where our lives will take us. I can’t help but see a little bit of the once youthful Jillian, Joe or Maria in us.

Swan Song of Maria ( A Tragic Fairy Tale) is without a doubt a powerful piece. With only one week to go until closing, this elegant work of art will inspire despite its tragic fairy tale ending.

Details:

Swan Song of Maria (A Tragic Fairy tale) is playing at Factory Studio Theatre (125 Bathurst Street) from January 5th until January 16th, 2011 as part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival presented by the Toronto Fringe.

-Performances will take place on Jan.5th at 7:15pm, Jan. 8th at 7pm, Jan.9th at 9:15pm, Jan.10th at 8:15pm, Jan.11th at 6pm, Jan.13th at 5:15pm, Jan.14th at 7:15pm, Jan.15th at 9:15pm, and Jan.16th at 4:45pm.

-Tickets cost $15 and may be purchased by going to www.fringetoronto.com

-For more information on the show you may also visit www.swansongofmaria.com

Photograph of Lili Francks, John Blackwood and Stephanie Hutchinson taken by Ruth Gillson