Review: Name in Vain (Decalogue Two)

At the Tarragon Theatre I watched Name in Vain (Decalogue Two) in their Extra Studio Space.  We follow the interaction of five monks working in their monastery. As they have made a vow of silence, we watch them interact with each other with no spoken words.

There is no music -for obvious reasons- and so the only sound is that of birds, rain, and the occasional grunt from one of the monks. Although there is potential for an interesting concept, the lack of words and minimal sound makes this play quite dull in my opinion.

There are props lining the hallway leading up to the studio which establishes the general vibe of the play before it even begins. Once the play begins one is immediately transported in the daily life of a monk. In the beginning I feel this play captures the serenity that is prevalent in monasteries. However, as the play continues, there is a mundane quality that takes over.

There are menial events that are the high points of this play, it shows the simplicity of a monk’s life, but I am left wondering what the general objective is. It’s a slow paced performance so the 70 minute duration feels a bit long. I feel the pace is deliberate to reiterate the simplicity of this lifestyle. This is certainly achieved, but I think it prevents the play from being invigorating.

There is a great understanding of time elapsing as seeds are sewn, plants grow and seasons change. In this whole time-span, however, we only learn minimal amounts about the characters. I feel this performance gets too caught up in the rituals and loses focus on character development. I feel the same objective could have been achieved in a much shorter time, making it an efficient and successful performance.

As mentioned earlier, the set and props are wonderful, and adequately serve their purpose.
The lack of words puts an incredible reliance on the actors who rise to the occasion. They are extremely convincing.  My only criticism would be the slow movements; I found the monks’ demeanor seemed too sombre. Everything else surrounding them and their daily activities embodies their humbleness.

I lived in Italy for a year, and was surrounded by churches, cathedrals as well as monasteries. I have visited several of these monasteries. Depending on which order they follow, each of these monasteries has a different mandate. I have been captivated by Gregorian chants and the visited the beautiful and humble abodes of the Franciscans.

I can assume that the average Canadian has not experienced the lifestyle of a monk. Perhaps this prior experience prevented me from being completely enchanted by this performance. My guest has also lived in Italy, and we share the same opinion of the play.

The costumes are exact replicas of the Franciscan Order; however, to my knowledge the Franciscans were not primarily focused on silence, instead their focus was on poverty. The objective of the costume was to evoke a general mood and the Franciscan robes are certainly the most humble in appearance.

As an artist I absolutely understand the importance of conveying the message you are set out to. I understand that in many cases there isn’t a particular message, in which case there is a large onus on the audience to draw their own personal meaning. In this play, I find there is an intention but I can’t quite get it.

Due to this, I was inclined to read the program once the show was over. I wish I had read the program before as the information in the program is vital to understanding the play. The writer, Andre Alexis explains that the play is a theatrical expression of the commandment; not to use the lord’s name in vain.

The idea was to put an emphasis on the acting, set and props by omitting the use of words. All three of these components were well executed. Unfortunately I don’t think that is the only component in creating a successful show. I feel there is a bit of a disconnect between understanding the fundamental structures of theatre, while still considering the performance as a whole and most importantly, the audience’s experience.

Name in Vain (Decalogue Two) is playing at Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman Av.) until October 30, 2012
– Show runs: Tue – Fri 8pm; Sat at 2.30pm and 8pm; Sun at 2.30pm.
– Ticket prices are: Adults and Seniors $18-22; Students and Arts Workers $15-19.
– Tickets available at the Tarragon Theatre Box Office (30 Bridgman Av.) or by calling (416) 531-1827.