John & Beatrice by Carole Fréchette, translation by John Murrell

Dates and Venue 6 - 16 May 2009, @ 8 pm | P.A.L. Theatre, 581 Cardero St. at Georgia St.

Director Del Surjik Costume Design Karen Mirfield Set Design Yvan Morisette Lighting Adrian Muir Stage Manager Jethelo E. Cabilete

Reviewer John Jane

Former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli once said: "There are lies, damned lies, and there are statistics." Montreal playwright Carole Fréchette’s original French language play, Jean et Béatrice is a dramatization of one woman, whose imagination is far richer than her real life experiences. She may not be overly concerned about statistics, but lies about everything in her past and most things in her present to create a desirable image of herself.

In Del Surjik’s staging of John Murrell’s English translation of John and Beatrice, Beatrice (Patricia Drake), an attractive, forty-something woman with a predisposition to aimless chatter and somnolence is looking for someone to love; or more precisely, someone who is ready and willing to love her.

She lives alone on the 33rd floor of a high –rise building that appears to be at the mid-point of extensive renovation and with no working elevator. Partly out of desolation and driven from an over-worked imagination, she distributes posters around the city describing herself as: “Well-to-do young woman, forthright and intelligent, seeking a man who will interest, move and seduce her: In that order – offering substantial reward.”

John (Vincent Gale), a cynical mercenary who claims to be a bounty hunter, has a briefcase full of tricks, but is clearly not interested in serving Beatrice’s urges. He is there merely to collect the reward. Breathless after climbing up 33 flights of stairs, (this should have been a warning) he is anxious to get started on the task at hand and requests to be paid in a 20 dollar bills.

Despite Beatrice’s quirky hindrances, John ultimately succeeds in passing the tests. At this point, there is a change in the play’s pace as well as the power position of its two characters. Beatrice must now confess that she is not the rich heiress she initially claimed to be, but a disconsolate soul in search of intimacy and an emotional experience.

John doesn’t take the disappointment well. He just wants to cut his losses and get out of the apartment. Beatrice however, has one more trick up her sleeve – actually, tucked in her bra, from where she takes a key, locks the door, defenestrates same key, thus imprisoning both in the apartment. (Here, the audience is required to accept the suspension of disbelief – apartment doors never require a key to open from inside).

The two become counter antagonists edging ever further from reality, never knowing what is real or unreal about each other except their names – and perhaps not even that.

Patricia Drake and Vincent Gale keep the audience spellbound throughout. Drake in particular, skilfully shows us the extremes people will go to gain social and emotional gratification.

Director Del Surjik returns to remount the play that officially opened the Performing Arts Lodge theatre. His experience with this work certainly shows. He maintains an excellent, though, deliberately uneven pace, always allowing the actors full responsibility for their performance on stage.

The eighth floor theatre would seem a perfect venue for this show. The large picture windows look out at the adjacent high-rise apartment buildings and in Wednesday’s opening performance sound designer Patrick Pennefather got help from natural elements as the heavy rain could be heard lashing the building.

Yvan Morissette’s set at first glance seems unfinished. Bare drywall, construction supplies left in corner and a coffee table converted from a spent cable spool bedeck the stage. As Beatrice’s situation is revealed, we realise that the austerity is intentional.

John and Beatrice will continue to get on each other’s nerves at the P.A.L. Theatre through until the 16th of May.

© 2009 John Jane