Ars Poetica – A Theatre Review

Ars Poetica

At Bain St-Michel, 5300 St-Dominique, Montreal, from January 17-February 12, 2012.

Infinite Theatre Production


An Anglo Montreal Theatre company when it chooses to explore the local Anglo Arts Angst (AAA!) scene in a spectacular manner, and for a month long run, is possibly exposing itself to a live post-mortem, which is not a particularly pleasurable encounter for the theatre company concerned.  A vitriolic dissection demolishes young actors and the experienced alike, especially when enormous efforts have gone into the production.  On the other hand, a careful and benign story line reportage followed by a few casual praises does not up the art, either.  The etymology of Ars suggests a historic commitment to high art.

A courageous act, no doubt, on the part of the company to encourage a local story by a local writer. But the Anglo community being what it is—growing in presence, vociferous, envious, cautious, (but rarely experimental), sees things in a variety of ways which is often colored by personal exigencies, animosity, competitivity, defensiveness and not always in the fantastic and expansive realm that theatre as an art form offers to those who are simply interested in being in the audience.  In other cities in North America (and there is no need to specify Brooklyn or Manhattan as the examples) the theatre critic maybe entirely anonymous; just as a food critic in Montreal restaurants is often not recognizable (since the days of the late Rochester and Chandwani). The point is that we know each other and must continue to know each other as we are a small community. Therefore needless to say, the pressure on the critic and the well-wisher, here, is extremely significant. But, the critical view of the audience cannot be numbed!

Having said that, one must state the obvious. This was a great production, very well technically cued up, excellently blocked, considering the complex geometry of the set, but essentially culled out of a dead-beat script; chock full of clichéd, banal and stereotypical character incarcerations. From beginning to end, stereotyping dominated. From the sleazebag lawyer Hugh portrayed adeptly by Howard Rosenstein, to the elfish student intern (the daughter Naomi) conniving to move to NYU, (the supposed Valhalla of creative writing)– miscast but valiantly acted by Elana Dunkelman. Then came the archetypal and hugely avoidable Canada Council Program Officer whose Quebec-isms are an archaic instigation and throwback to the racist Anglos who departed down the 401 highway to Ontario and elsewhere in the seventies. All this leaves the play wanting in intelligence.  Wanting in contemporariness, wanting in a dateline that defines its periodicity.  In a post-Bush, Harper world– Montreal’s contemporariness goes beyond a few casual mentions of Concordia, McGill and Cote Vertu. The act of defining it as a “serious farce” (Guy Sprung to Pat Donnelly in the Gazette), does not get the script off the hook.  It remains muggy, earthbound, and non-ethereal—- the etymology of the title would suggest otherwise—while the sets are telescoping skywards in a spectacular manner.

George, the Publisher (Noël Burton ), who has inculcated in his staff the allegorical ability to enter and exit complex financial and social circumstances through the fire escape,  is outstanding as an actor who takes his character beyond its spine; words and grunts tumble out of his mouth in near spontaneity as he lives the character on stage.  Now here perhaps is the redeeming creation of the writer Holden, who must have an insight on the lives of well-known Montreal poets. There must have been a deeper understanding  here of the connections between popping a bottle of bubbly early in the AM, flying off to Cancun with grant money and liaising dangerously in one’s office.

Guy Sprung, Artistic Director of Infinite Theatre and Director of the play, is extremely resourceful, cycling his way around corporate Montreal tirelessly, networking, making the right connections, raising substantial sums of money to keep alive a significant Montreal institution( and injecting lascivious characters often in his productions along the way). This play however was surprisingly contained.  No subtext, no suggestions, no post-orgasmic exhalations. Everything peters out at the end and a cinderellaesque compromise is achieved.   Sprung’s ability however to deploy the right resources towards an excellent utilization of the old, cold bath house repeatedly for theatre, is commendable. When one enters, one is reminded of the new Acropolis Museum at Parthenon, large cubic shapes and windows to another world, slanted at expansive angles with gobos and projectors streaming the words of well-known Montreal Poets. The sets were done very imaginatively by Veronica Classen.

All in all a production worth going to, but marred by the writing.