Theatre at UBC

Old Goriot / PuSh International Performing Arts Festival

Based on the novel by Honoré de Balzac adapted and directed by James Fagan Tait. World Première.

Dates and Venue 17 – 26 January 2008 @ 7.30pm Previews 15 – 16 January 2008 | TELUS Studio Theatre, Chan Centre for the Performing Arts at UBC

Director James Fagan Tait Music Composer and Director Joelysa Pankanea Scenography Robert Gardiner Costumes Mara Gottler
Projection and Lighting James Foy Stage Manager Robin Richardson

Reviewer Jane Penistan

Old Goriot is one of a series of novels and stories of Parisian society in the years after the Revolution. Balzac entitled this La Comédie humaine. Old Goriot, the Lear-like tragedy of a father who gives all he has to his heartless and ungrateful daughters, is also a comment on the contrast of the living conditions of the wealthy and would-be affluent and the working poor in a large nineteenth-century city.

Like Dickens at a later date, morality and compassion are also major themes in this socially conscious novel adapted as a play with music by the director James Fagan Tait.

This production brings together on the Telus Stage well-known professional actors and UBC theatre students in a large and varied cast. Of the eighteen cast members, ten are UBC students, fortunate enough to be on stage with eight experienced actors.

Many of the company play multiple roles, changing clothes and characters several times during the performance. It is not until the cast list is consulted that the large number of dramatis personae realized by so comparatively few, becomes apparent. The diverse lodgers and visitors at the Pension Vauquer are portrayed in all their individuality. The changes of costume and character are accomplished, sometimes with incredible speed, impeccably.

The centre of the stage is dominated by a large table, round which the company sit to eat and talk, dominated by Madame Vauquer (Patti Allan). The diners are served by Christophe (Wil Carlos) and Silvie (Gina Stockdale). The waiting at table and the eating of meals is mimed.

The table also serves as an elevated stage for small cast scenes, such as intimate conversation or a carriage ride, again with much miming. The backdrop is a screen on which projections of the lights of Paris or of the boarding-house, or other venues are shown. Up stage right sits the orchestra, on stage throughout, accompanying the singing, supplying background music or sound as required.

Old Goriot, a man of declining years and fortune, but who has great faith in human nature, is well and sincerely performed by Richard Newman. His youthful counterpart is that of the aspiring young law student, Eugène de Rastignac, admirably, intelligently, and sympathetically presented by Spencer Atkinson.

The man of evil genius is David Mackay’s Vautrin. He appears to be such an honest, likeable man, but what is discovered about him by an elderly pair of lodgers, M. Poiret, (Alec Willows) and Mlle. Michonneau (Mary Black), is an entertaining revelation. Vautrin’s crimes are against society, while the greed, ingratitude, and cruelty of Goriot’s daughters, Delphine (Cecile Roslin) and Anastasie de Restaud (Jocelyn Gauthier) are not indictable.

Anna Hagan presents three women of the older generation, the widowed Comtesse de Ambermesnil, the powerful society hostess Vicomtesse de Beauseant, and the loving, impecunious mother of the student, Eugène; three very different women, all distinguishable, circumstantially different and all complete recognizable personalities. Other members of the company are to be congratulated with these actors for their performances.

The costumes, scenography, and general technical presentation are all competent and at times brilliant, but this performance lacks cohesion and warmth. This may well be first night nerves, and successive performances will come together and generate warmth.

James Fagan Tait has written a dramatic and atmospheric script that the cast acts as a company. This production is well worth seeing for the individual performances and the ensemble work displayed, and for the insightful translation from novel to play. I shall have to go see it again.

© 2008 Jane Penistan