Toronto
2 min

Monotonous note

Missing music of the night

THREE GENERATIONS OF CONFLICT. Patricia Hamilton (bottom), Diana Donnelly and Dixie Seatle do their best with a weak script. Credit: XTRA! files

Michel Tremblay’s Impromptu On Nuns’ Island plays like an episode of Friends – the ones who don’t have any. Populated by four characters who engage in a bitch-fest on the nature of art, politics and national identity, the script plays too heavily with ideas rather than articulating what those ideas have meant to a Canadian or French Canadian audience.



When an opera diva’s mother urges her celebrated daughter to return to Quebec to find comfort after a humiliating experience performing in Paris, one cannot help but wonder why anyone would want to return to a home that snaps and bites at its own in a hateful manner devoid of compassion. References to Céline Dion titillate, hinting at the ways in which we frequently mistreat internationally known Canadian artists. Unfortunately they fail to explore any complex psychological motives.



The design, although visually stunning, has actors wandering aimlessly from one stepped level to the next. Awkward staging runs parallel to the way in which potentially interesting playwriting conventions, such as cross cut dialogue, may have made for entertaining theatre. Unfortunately, as the singer’s hapless accompanist, Robert Persichini’s valiant attempt to make semi-monologue segments work come across as fruitless gestures that cannot bring depth to a thankless role.



Dixie Seatle’s diva looks elegant and behaves beautifully in her delusional, embittered state. Seatle’s impressive acting skills, however, are overshadowed by a script that cannot fulfill itself. Rather than building nuance and character throughout, the playwright has constructed, like the author of a libretto, a series of extended tableaus that support the primary intention of an opera – music. But there is no real musical quality in this play translated by Linda Gaboriau. The rhythm is one note, monotonous and relentlessly quarrelsome.



Every opera diva loves a good bitchy quarrel, but when the opportunity finally appears on stage in the character of the diva’s mother, played beautifully by Patricia Hamilton, it is much too little much too late. This fragile play, from an ordinarily strident and brilliant playwright, reduces strong performances to attempts at reviving an ailing spectacle. There are some great one liners, and the evening is fast paced and well acted, but ultimately, the representation of gay pianists as “toy poodles” and women as embittered divas simply does not rise to any truly tragic or enlightening plateau.



Director Diana LeBlanc has attempted to construct honest emotional moments for a cast of characters who are struggling to find some dignity in their lives as artists betrayed by history and each other. But the music of the night is missing, and until that music is found, the script remains a phantom operatic impromptu stranded on a remote desert island.



* Impromptu On Nuns’ Island continues at the Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman Ave) until Sun, Feb 2; call (416) 531-1827.