Review: Helen’s Necklace (Canadian Rep Theatre)

Canadian Rep Theatre presents Helen’s Necklace in Toronto that feels hazy and unanchored

Canadian Rep Theatre has chosen to produce Carole Fréchette’s Helen’s Necklace in a unique way. Typically performed by one actress as Helen and one male portraying the other characters, director Ken Gass casts three female actors in the two-hander.
The eponymous character narrates her journey through an unnamed country after she loses her “lighter-than-air” pearl necklace. The necklace is described as using invisible thread, making the pearls appear as if just scattered around Helen’s clavicle – it is an elusive and ethereal ornament. And this production follows the necklace’s lead.

Canadian Rep‘s production strives for perfection: a minimal version without a set, costumes in neutral colours with a focus on the text (translated by John Murrell) and the performances from Akosua Amo-Adem, Zorana Sadiq and Helen Taylor. These simple choices are meant to underscore how anyone could be Helen – or so the director indicates in his program note.
However, the idea of three actors taking on the lead role of Helen, gliding in and out of her enormous monologues, is often confusing. They occasionally echo each other’s gestures or speak in unison but, when they trade the part, there is no definitive way to tell who has transformed into whom. A common costume piece or physical trait might have been useful, especially as her speeches seem fluid enough that an action like a passing of a scarf could have seemed organic.
All three performers take a turn at playing the taxi driver as well, a character who takes Helen further and further into the country, chasing this unobtainable necklace. On her way, she meets a handful of other people including a construction worker and a mother who has suffered the loss of her child (both parts played by Amo-Adem with her usual grounded emotional authenticity). Strangely though, Sidiq’s driver is the only one who uses a real pair of sunglasses…
Instead of making Helen’s journey distinct, this production created a smudgy reproduction. The stage is often flooded with haze (although there is no warning regarding its use) which nearly put my companion to sleep as the haze obscured any reality within the play. The program image even blurs the actresses’ faces into each other.
All this appears to be their attempt to make the character universal. However, from my own experience, it’s the details – that sharp-focus on the specifics of a character or situation – that earn recognition by an audience.
Canadian Rep‘s production of Helen’s Necklace, instead, skims the surface of a meditative and moving script. I feel it reaches for that special something that it can never quite can grasp.

Details:

  • Helen’s Necklace was playing until November 11, 2018 at the Berkeley Street Upstairs Theatre (26 Berkeley St). It also plays at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre (440 Locust St) from November 16-18, 2018.
  • Performances in Toronto were at 8:00 pm Thursday through Saturday with matinees at 2:30 pm on Sundays. Performances in Burlington are at 7:30 pm Friday and Saturday with a matinee at 2:00 pm on Sunday.
  • Ticket prices range from $23 to $35.
  • Tickets for the Toronto run were available online, by phone at 416-368-3110, and in person at the box office.
  • Tickets for the Burlington run are available online, by phone at 905-681-6000, and in person at the box office.
  • Audience Advisory: This production uses theatrical haze.

Photo of Akosua Amo-Adem, Zorana Sadiq and Helen Taylor by Michael Cooper

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