Review: John and Beatrice (Should Be Theatre)

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Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace put to its best use in John and Beatrice

With the show nearing the end of its run, I was glad to see the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace flush with audience members at the Wednesday night performance of Should Be Theatre’s John and Beatrice. The few other times I’d visited the space, it hadn’t been as full, which is always disheartening to think people are missing out on good theatre. And John and Beatrice is definitely a nifty show.

A translated piece by Montreal-born playwright Carole Fréchette, John and Beatrice throws a spin on the quintessential fairytale quest for love, riffing off the lonely woman waiting for her Prince Charming. In this play however, our lonely “princess” Beatrice supplies her own incentive to attract the lads to her tower –in this case the 33rd floor of an abandoned building. John, the man who shows up, seems to be both exactly and not quite what Beatrice had in mind.

To me, this show seemed to be built in three sections. The first being quick, witty and dynamically crafted. Hallie Burt and David Simor dive head first into their characters from the get-go, carefully building the tension between Beatrice and John without laying waste to the humourous zingers that whizz by. The characters are insufferable, fascinating and sympathetic, and in a two-hander like this one, it’s important for the actors to each stand their ground with the text. And these two do.

The second and third parts of the story are where I believe the fault lays mostly with the play itself, not the acting or directing. The sharp dialogue becomes heavier, transitioning into longer monologues, some beautifully written (and always delivered with prowess by Burt and Simor), others long-winded and reiterative. The action also slows into a strange tennis match of an exchange that feels like it tries multiple times to get somewhere, but takes too long to make it. It’s not a lengthy show, but feels like it is after a certain point, especially with the seats in the Backspace (not the most comfortable things to park your tush in).

Admittedly, I think this production (designed by Sorcha Gibson) made the absolute best use of the Passe Muraille Backspace that I’ve seen yet. There’s no curtain or blackout to signal the start of the piece; it begins immediately with Beatrice already on stage, in a plush peachy pink armchair noshing on a delectably crimson apple. There’s a bushel of more apples on a table nearby and a pile of plastic water bottles tucked downstage on the floor. The set is bordered by two tall paper walls that close off the stage, completing the scene nicely.

If you’re the fidgety type who can’t cope with slightly awkward seating, I’m not sure you’d enjoy yourself after the first hour, but for everyone else: there are three shows left including tonight and I think it’d be worth your while to see these actors in action.

Details

  • John and Beatrice is playing at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson Avenue) until May 18, 2013
  • Shows run Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm, with an additional matinee on Saturday at 2pm
  • Ticket are $20
  • Tickets are available online, or through the box office at 416-504-7529

Photo of Hallie Burt and David Simor.