By George Perry
Montparnasse (Groundwater Productions) is a brave play that is currently onstage at Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille. It is the story of two bold women who relocate from Canada to Montparnasse, a Bohemian haven in Paris in the 1920’s.
The play was created by Maev Beaty, Erin Shields and Andrea Donaldson. All characters, famous or not, are fearlessly performed by Beaty and Shields.
Beaty and Shields primarily play models to two artists, but also many other notorious artists of the time. Most of the famous artists they play are male, and most are depicted as being one-dimensional sex maniacs. Maybe that’s fair, maybe it is not. None of us were there.
However, the concept of examining exceptional art from the models’ perspectives, instead of the painters’, is refreshing and intriguing.
On the other hand, the main female characters, Amelia and Margaret, blossom. Watching Amelia break out of her cocoon with “Mags’s” encouragement is a lot of fun to watch.
Both women are exceptional in their roles. Without doubt, there is a provocative chemistry between the two.
In the hands of lesser actors, some scenes might come across as bad parodies of old Calvin Klein television commercials or black and white magazine ads. Instead, I thought these were some of the highlights of the play. There is a spark, an excitement in the air during these scenes. It’s not unlike the unspoken magic between two musicians when a duet takes on a life of its own.
The multi-level set is also used memorably. The set itself is minimal. It complements the rich, vivid characters that Beaty and Shields create. The Carol Burnett television program came to mind as a result.
My friend Austin met me right after work. We enjoyed a couple of beverages at an old cowboy bar down the street from Theatre Passe Muraille before the play. Austin was looking dapper as always, dressed in a suit, and somehow maintaining his GQ looks in the middle of a Toronto blizzard. He looked great but had the blues. His girlfriend has just left him. She wanted to quit her life and become a housewife.
Austin and I paraded down Queen Street like champions after an earthquake, our destination Theatre Passe Muraille.
Beaty and Shields are naked onstage for a large part of the play. We weren’t offended by the nudity, but it seemed forced: ‘Nude for the sake of being nude.’ We may have been buttoned-down, but we’re certainly not cavemen who prefer women “in the kitchen peeling potatoes.” We were two straight men agreed that there was too much female nudity in the play.
We generally enjoyed the play. We did agree, however, that Montparnasse would be enjoyed more by a different audience. People with more in common with the two nurturing women onstage is probably a better target market for Montparnasse than two guys. New moms would probably love this play.
That being said, I thought that the way Amelia leaves Mags’s apartment near the end of the play is one of the most intriguing things I’ve seen on a Toronto stage.
We left the theatre with smiles on our faces. Montparnasse proved to be a cure for Austin’s blues. I’d definitely recommend this play.
It’s a cure for the blues and an antidote to a spring blizzard. It is also great food for thought and visually stunning.
-Montparnasse is playing at Theatre Passe Murallaile until April 2nd
-Tickets range from $15-$35 (Saturday matinee PWYC)
-For tickets: artsboxoffice.ca or 416 504-7529
-photo of Erin Shields and Maev Beaty by Aviva Armour Ostroff