Castor and Sylvie is a tiny wee character drama set in Simone de Beauvoir‘s living room. Her lifelong companion and literary collaborator Jean-Paul Sartre has just died, leaving her stunned and unsettled. Can she go on without him? Can she write, can she see people, can she wake up in the mornings?
Through conversations with the devoted Sylvie Le Bon — the two are more than platonic friends, but less than lovers — Beauvoir parses her identity, regains her equilibrium, and raises unsettling questions about Le Bon’s own future.
This piece runs on two levels: as a portrait of not-quite-sexual female intimacy, and as a (heavily embellished) glimpse into Simone de Beauvoir’s final years. If either of those appeal to you, Castor and Sylvie has something to offer. If they don’t, you’ll probably just find it tedious.
There’s a lot of warmth and coziness on display here, but I found there was also a lot of repetition, with entire pages seemingly spent on “But I can’t!” “But you must!” “But I can’t!” -style conversations.
The show also relies heavily upon flashbacks as a means of delivering exposition. These often run in rapid succession (2-3 flashbacks in a 6-minute scene), and the effect reminded me of watching a clip show: “Remember that time we went to Rouen and I called you a silly horse?”, and the lights change, and we’re in Rouen, and someone says “You silly horse!”, and then we’re back in the room.
I’m a sucker for small stories like this, and I’m very sympathetic to the director’s goal of getting unconventional and queer families on the stage. Beauvoir was a fascinating woman on points alone, and this portrait has a few genuinely tender and moving moments.
I’m also very cognizant of the fact that, as a cisman (albiet a cisman who has studied Beauvoir extensively), this play is meant to inform me and open a world to me, but there may be nuance or depths which I find difficult to access, this story being substantially about friendship, intimacy and romance between women.
But as a whole hour-long show, I wasn’t taken in. I tried, and sometimes I did buy it, but every time they started arguing over who ought to be whose literary executor, I just lost interest. I know people who would like this show. You may be one of them. I do, however, have the feeling that a lot of people will leave the theatre feeling they’ve eaten their vegetables.
- Castor and Sylvie plays through August 16th at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace. (16 Ryerson Ave., near Queen and Bathurst)
- Remaining performances: Wednesday August 12th @ 5:15 PM; Thursday August 13th @ 7:30 PM; Friday August 14th @ 5:15 PM; Saturday August 15th @ 10:00 PM; Sunday August 16th @ 12:45 PM.
- Tickets are $15, and can be purchased online, by phone at 888-328-8384, from the venue box office starting an hour before the show, or from the festival box office in the beer garden at the Factory Theatre. (125 Bathurst St.) Fees may apply to online and telephone orders.
- While this show’s content is appropriate for all ages, the subject matter may not be of interest to young people. Recommended for ages 14 and up.