Tonight, the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace was a sleek Danish hotel room. It had beautiful, clean lines and a monochromatic colour palette. The accessories were tasteful, the light fixtures divine. Before the lights even fell, I felt transported to a life I’ve always wished I had. And then, in under a minute, the characters of Maria and Jorge entered in black and messed the whole thing up. Pietà, playing at SummerWorks 2012 stained the crisp linens with sadness and regret and I was suddenly thankful to be on the unforgiving wooden banquettes.
Pietà was originally written in Danish by playwright Astrid Saalbach whose career is well-known internationally. To my knowledge, this is Toronto’s first viewing, lovingly described in the program as “what happens when worlds conspire to help tell a story by a brilliant woman from Denmark”. It’s a one-hander that is both sharp and desperate in which the main character, too hungover to stand comfortably, finds herself awake in a strange bed, next to a strange man.
What’s strangest of all: the man doesn’t stir and Maria stoops ever lower into the hotel bar fridge and into the deep recesses of her mind as the sun rises over what’s left of her life. It’s a painful, confessional-style piece that becomes more pitiful the clearer it is that the motionless man in the bed will never provide Maria with what she needs.
When I was in art school, a ‘Pietà’ was a name for a sculpture or image of pity expressed as the Virgin Mary cradled dying Jesus in her arms. Michelangelo’s famous Pietà rests in St. Peter’s in Rome and is considered by many to be his most moving work. There was something interesting about the comparison drawn between this iconic moment and that of pitiful Maria mourning the loss of potential in her mysterious bedmate. What if he had turned out to be her saviour?
Tamsin Kelsey’s portrayal of Maria was elegant and precise even as she drank herself into oblivion. Her movements became choreography, melding with her progressively diluted thought patterns. Ben Muir, I was told later by a SummerWorks volunteer, was a beautiful creature who deserved more time upright than his character, Jorge allowed.
The set and costumes by Amy Keith and lighting by David Degrow were bright (both senses) and made excellent use of the confines of the Backspace. The sound design, however, drew attention from the action rather than supporting it. Often the songs or fragments of songs were so quiet I wondered if they were an audience member’s iPod playing accidentally.
Pietà, like the artistic canon from which it shares its name, was carefully crafted and well displayed; a perfect, if sullen moment for inspection and introspection.
- Pietà plays at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, 16 Ryerson Avenue. (One block northeast of Queen and Bathurst.)
- Performance date remaining: Sun. August 19, 4:30 PM
- All individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at http://ticketwise.ca, By phone by calling the Lower Ossington Box Office at 416-915-6747, in person at the Lower Ossington Box Office (located at 100A Ossington Avenue) Mon. – Sun. 12PM-7PM (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee)
- Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows.