Paulo & Daphne Sets Mythology In Toronto
There is no curtain at Theatreworks Productions’ Paulo & Daphne. We choose our seats and whisper quietly before the play begins. Our eyes return to the stage, because the allure of the set is too strong to keep in our peripheral vision. The set is a mess of an apartment. The couch is pulled out into a bed, covered in a tangle of sheets, hiding the body of a man. A hand and a leg protrudes from beneath the sheets, but they do not flinch. I find myself hoping that the man is in a deep sleep, instead of being taken by the “big sleep”.
The only light is the small spotlight on a cellist on the side of the stage. The cellist plays a tune full of longing and emotion. The music brings up the feelings that have yet to be voiced. For those who know little of mythology, the cellist’s song forewarns of sadness.
Paulo & Daphne by Ned Dickens is a twist on the ancient Greek myth about Apollo and Daphne. For those of you who have not memorized every myth or deciphered every ancient pot, the story goes like this: Apollo angers Cupid by insulting his bowmanship, so Cupid shoots Apollo with a golden arrow to make him fall in love with Daphne. Cupid also shoots Daphne with an arrow made of lead, which makes her repulsed by Apollo’s love. Apollo chases Daphne through a forest. She runs from him and turns into a tree. Apollo uses his powers to make the tree ever-living and beautiful.
Paulo & Daphne mirrors the dynamic between the two mythological characters. Paulo, played by W. Joseph Matheson, is an immigration lawyer who has a reputation for sleeping with his attractive, female clients. Daphne, played by Karen Glave, is his long-term assistant and friend, who is not afraid of scolding him for his poor decisions. Paulo is up-front about his strong feelings for Daphne, while she is up-front about her refusal. Even though they are standing in one room, you can watch as he chases her and she flees.
The tension between Paulo and Daphne is disrupted by the illegal immigrant Illyria, played Daniella Forget. Paulo tries to prove his loyalty to Daphne by promising to abstain from the temptation of Illyria. Illyria, on the other hand, tries to make his test of moral fiber as difficult as possible. Daniella Forget was absolutely brilliant. She threw herself into this role as ferociously as she threw herself at Paulo. Her desire was raw. Her anger was raw. She was the most mysterious of the three, but I thought her performance was the brightest.
The beginning of the show cleverly played with its inspiration of mythology. Like many Greek myths, it was dramatic and strange and full of energy. Every moment was exciting. The introduction was a wonderful homage to the stories of the ancient gods. However, I felt the play slowly lost this energy and became something much different as the 90 minute run-time elapsed. The allusions to mythology were broken down for the audience. At some points, the characters read stories from Ovid’s Metamorphesis out-loud. New myths were brought into the plot. Illyria also became Ariadne and Philomela. All three characters had witnessed a “minotaur” of some kind. The more the characters talked, the more I got lost in the labyrinth of their words.
This confusion could be defended as purposeful to the plot. The audience enters the maze along with the characters, instead of apart from them. In other moments, I was less accepting of my confusion. Please be aware that there are spoilers ahead. Actions of characters seemed unfitting. Paulo admits that his son died because of him, which is a dramatic reveal. The issue is that the reveal is close to the end of the play, after no mention of a son during the rest of the play. The story coincides with the myth when the son of Helios/Apollo took his sun-chariot, lost control and was struck down by Zeus. Yes, the story alluded to the myth, but Paulo’s son was not alluded to anywhere else in the play.
Another example I found to be unfitting was that Illyria confesses to a trauma where she was repeatedly raped by soldiers. Daniella Forget shows the vulnerability of the confession, while also asserting that she refuses to be seen as only a pitiful victim. The confession is well done, and I didn’t notice until my walk home how utterly strange it was. This woman has confessed to being brutally raped by multiple men. The difficulty with which she admits this, makes me believe this is something that has haunted her. This completely goes against her actions in the beginning. Why would a woman who had been sexually assaulted in such a horrifying way, gleefully try to have sex with Paulo? Was it to show she had transformed into the aggressor? Was it to show she believed sex was something unemotional? These are possibilities, but it felt like the mistranslation of the physical and psychological repercussions of trauma.
The energy presented by the cast, particularly by Forget, was wonderful to see. The idea of bringing legends of the past into the streets of Toronto was intriguing. The play had a strong start, but it eventually lost me in the confusion. The play had a nice ending, but I wasn’t entirely sure how it got there.
– Paulo & Daphne is playing at Pia Bouman Theatre (6 Noble Street off of Queen St.West)
– Performances run at 8:00pm Tuesdays to Sundays until December 7th.
– It’s $25 general admission ($20 in advance) and $12.50 for a student or arts worker. It’s PWYC on Tuesday Evenings ($10 suggested).
– Tickets can be purchased at the door or online.