By Maxim Gorky directed by Jane Heyman

Dates 22 March – 8 April 2007 Venue Studio 58, Langara College Reviewer Jane Penistan

Rarely does one enter a theatre and gasp at the beauty of the set. At Studio 58, Pam Johnson has made a garden behind a country house, for the audience to traverse, before being seated on three sides of the acting area, with its feet almost in the garden.

Jane Heyman’s brilliant blocking of the whole production ensures that the audience remains in constant proximity to the action and rarely is any cast member obscured from its view in this apparently three sided space.

The large cast of actors establishes the atmosphere of a family get together. The relationships are firmly in place and the interplay of familial differences and sympathies are apparent. The social standing of these Summerfolk, here for their summer vacation, is, in their own opinion, their perfect right and privilege. That the local inhabitants are undervalued and dissatisfied is not apparent to the major male members of the family, who are self satisfied and arrogant. It is the wives and daughters who see the inequalities between the summer visitors and their servants and neighbours, and whose sympathy is aroused.

There are very good performances here from all the members of the cast. Perhaps because they are the centre of the plot, round whom the incidents mainly revolve, special mention can be made of Alicia Novak as Varya and Sebastian Kroon as Bassov, but equally good presentations come from Luke Camillieri as Shalimov, a writer and family friend of Varya and Bassov. Chris Cochrane is notable as Dvotochie, the uncle of Pyotr Suslov (Peter David Harris). Jessica Hill and Maria Jose Romo are a truly affectionate and sensitive mother and daughter, Maria and Sonya Lvovna.

Other members of the large company are not outshone by these characters who are perhaps somewhat more prominent in the text. The smaller parts of the servants and local peasantry are important to the philosophy and working out of the play, as are the other family members, sisters, husbands and wives.

As usual, Patrick Pennefather’s music for accompaniment, bridging, dancing and singing is tuneful, well performed, appropriate and very pleasing.
The spectacular and telling last scene is perhaps the most memorable and beautifully conceived of this excellent production. Jane Heyman and her cast and crew are to be congratulated on this exceptional presentation of a little known (in Vancouver) and prophetic play.

© 2007 Jane Penistan