Odyssey Theatre’s celebration of its 30th anniversary is a mixed bag in more ways than one.
Taking Spanish writing and the measures to which we go for love as her themes, artistic director Laurie Steven has chosen three one-act plays, each of which she directs, rather than the usual single, full production. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
The first piece, Saving Melisendra, is Steven’s stage adaptation of a chapter from Miguel de Cervantes’ 17th century novel Don Quixote. In it, the increasingly mad knight Quixote (William Beddoe) interferes in a puppet show about two lovers, one of whom, Melisendra, has been captured by some dastardly Moors.
The puppets, designed by Kathy McLellan and operated primarily by John Nolan who plays the puppet master Pedro, are clever. There are some funny Punch and Judy-style bits, and melodrama is given the gears. The text touches on ideas of reality and artifice in theatre (“I thought everything taking place here was taking place,” says the deluded Quixote).
But the show overall is flat, lacks commitment and is unfocused. On opening night, which had been twice delayed because of weather, the show also saw the first of several set or costume malfunctions.
The second piece is Steven’s adaptation of Federico García Lorca’s early 20th-century The Love of Don Perlimplin and Belisa in the Garden. More incisive and engaging than Saving Melisendra, it’s about an aging, bookish bachelor Don Perlimplin (Beddoe) and a younger, decidedly lusty woman Belisa (Chandel Gambles). The old fellow’s life is turned topsy-turvy when, inevitably, younger men start circling his attractive wife.
There’s some notable choreography (Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière) involving a murder of crows, Jerrard Smith’s masks are striking, and Naomi Fontaine’s costumes – especially Belisa’s Madonna-meets-Katy Perry get-up – are fun.
The play is a tragi-comedy, and Perlimplin’s action in the face of marital tumult will surprise you.
The highlight of the trio is Whether You Like It or Not. It was written by the 17th century’s Tirso de Molina, a prolific playwright who, like Cervantes, exemplifies the Spanish Golden Age of writing. The new translation/adaptation by the University of Ottawa’s José Ruano de la Haza sparkles.
The excellent Karen Knox is Finea, an exuberant young Hungarian aristocrat who falls big time for the visiting Count Federico of Naples (Mark Huisman), a hunky lad who’s already betrothed. Declaring “I’ll do whatever it takes to get my man,” she does precisely that, disguising herself as a male servant to follow the unsuspecting Federico back to his home. There she strikes a blow for both sheer determination and the power of women in a world where, as she notes tongue-in-cheek, they are considered weak.
Coming last in the threesome of plays, the funny, sly and fast-moving Whether You Like It or Not makes amends for the opening piece.