Souvenirs by Michele Rimi

Dates and Venue 13-29 November @ 8:00pm Presentation House Theatre (333 Chesterfield Avenue, North Vancouver)

Reviewer Roger Wayne Eberle

A first-rate performance for this finely crafted play! Five-time Gemini nominee Ron Lea shares the spotlight with the talented and versatile Rachel Aberle, who is making her professional debut with this performance. Lea brings considerable depth to his character. He inhabits his role with careful precision, adding a nuanced attention to detail, old world charisma, and an endearing vulnerability that makes the Czech immigrant Gustav resonate warmly with the audience.

Rachel Aberle shines as Gustav's daughter, Maggie. She manages to capture the essence of a character whose tough resilience masks the fragile uncertainty of a teen who is struggling to find herself amid an artificial, fractured world. These two actors work very well together, and the intensity of the father-daughter connection always rings true, whether they are arguing tenaciously, reflecting on old times, or waxing philosophical on the issues of life.

Set in the relatively safe haven (grizzly threat aside) of Gustav's lakeshore cottage, this play explores with in-depth attention to personal detail the tortured psyches that make for an interesting father-daughter dynamic. There are the inevitable trust issues, there is a well-guarded secret that provides a pivotal impetus in the play, and there is a heritage of familial isolation and struggle against oppression that affects both father and daughter as they struggle to position themselves in a world where few can be counted on to give them what they need. Good humour, suspenseful drama, and gritty realism abound in this wonderfully charming play.

Rustic, but with all the amenities of home, Gustav's lakefront cottage showcases designer Brian Perchaluk's masterful attention to detail and clever utilization of stage space. Outside and inside spaces are demarcated unobtrusively, with both 'worlds' created in a way that is both comfortable and natural.

Lighting designer Ereca Hassell does an admirable job of bathing the stage in both 'artificial' and 'natural' hues, artistically designed to heighten the mood at critical junctures in the play. Her sensitive use of ambient control is delightful to see, and goes a long way to enhancing the various emotional tones Riml has so superbly written into Souvenirs.

In one of the many memorable moments of the play, Gustav tries to impress upon his daughter the importance of passionate creativity. He recollects how Czech artists were stifled under Russian oppression, and they were encouraged to create their art and hide it in little boxes. "Art," he says, "is like breathing." With so many people today failing to catch their breath because of life's hectic pace, it is refreshing to find a play like Souvenirs that wonderfully breathes life into art, and art into life.

© 2009 Roger Wayne Eberle