The acting was solid and the set intriguing.
Yet when the Belfry Theatre audience stood on opening night to applaud the cast of And Slowly Beauty… I stayed in my seat. The reason? Quebec playwright Michel Nadeau’s story of an ostensibly successful man stuck in a rut and asking basic life questions didn’t resonate. But because it may for others I can’t say don’t go see this play, the first production of the script in English.
Dennis Fitzgerald is both sweet and subtle in his role as Mr. Mann (get it? the common man?) the middle manager struggling to be enthusiastic about his employer’s company restructuring plan. One memorable scene has him uttering the dreaded “synergy” to staff whose jobs may shortly be eliminated. Five cast members who double up on roles funny it up in that scene by speaking back nonsensically, but in tones of protest we understand.
With a distracted wife (Caroline Gillis), two young adult kids (Thomas Olajide and Celine Stubel) constantly on the run, and a dying young colleague (Christian Murray), Mann is adrift in the centre. One night he goes to see Anton Chekov’s Three Sisters and is struck by the questions of life that play poses: What matters? What is real? How do we make meaning of the modern world?
These questions leave Mr. Mann at first perplexed through his day, but ultimately learning to find joy in the basics: his children and wife who pause to reconnect with him and he with them.
John Ferguson’s versatile set design works well. The framed glass wall extending the width of the stage has enough entries and exits that it quadruples up convincingly as office boardroom, coffee shop, the Mann family’s kitchen and theatre. There is perhaps a bit too much chair moving by cast members – a physical necessity but a cerebral distraction.
Directed by Michael Shamata, the cast move fluidly in their roles. Mary-Colin Chisholm is the coffee shop server who spies Mann reading Three Sisters and then goes to the play, bumping into him when he decides to see it a second time.
She is a strong physical and plot pivot point, playing not only the colleague from work but the unseen neighbour – who turns out to be the coffee shop server – whom Mann hears having loud sex off-stage. She helps Mann realize the beauty of discovery that can be found through the arts, ahem.
And Slowly Beauty… is a play gentle with its cleverness. It co-opts the audience in the almost clubby knowledge of underscoring the gift of what theatre provides.
Does that invisible ego stroking prompt an audience to stand for an ovation that is not just for the cast but for themselves? You be the judge.
• And Slowly Beauty… runs now until Oct. 23 at the Belfry Theatre, 1291 Gladstone Ave. Tickets, $28 to $38, are available at the box office or by calling 250-385-6815.