Review by Dimitri and Vildana Stanisic-Keller
University of Ottawa Drama Guild’s production of Princess T. that runs from October 29th to November 02nd (at 8:00pm) is a richly conceived and daring drama..
Tuesday, opening night, it was close to 7:40pm. when we approached the Academic Hall entrance. There was a sense of confusion due to a locked door with a sign “Silence! The show goes on”. People, spread around as cautious loners, were reading fliers and suspiciously gazing at newcomers. And before you could ask your partner “What’s going on?”, there is a storm of Czech cabaret style clowns (dressed and made-up for Halloween party) surrounding you and whispering “Are you here for Princes T.?”, pulling out some folded paper and thrusting it in your hands. We only glanced at ‘CENSORED’ stamped over the newspaper article with the heading “To ensure peace in the country”.
The psychology of conspiracy is in the air .We don’t say a word but follow them quietly around the building to the back door. The atmosphere of restricted solidarity, boosted by the descent into the catacombesque underground, continues after a door opens and we are back-stage. Quiet, because of the rehearsal that is apparently going on, we look for the next instruction that will tell us what to do. The auditorium is covered with some dirty sheets, except for the first two rows where most seats are marked ‘reserved’.
A clown shows us the third-row seats and we take our places without taking our gaze off the stage. We immediately become aware that the play began the moment we decided to come to see the performance…and even much earlier….…
So, there we are, like it or not, the participants of a grotesque fairy-tale where a Chinese court affair allegory alludes, on a kafkaesque scale, to any society, to its perpetual tendency to self-destruct. We dwell in the country dominated by an incompetent emperor – a calculating power, plotting its last deal (marrying his daughter Turandot to save the empire); we are subjugated to the mischievous and destructive incompetence of the courtiers and we see that life in such a country is a collective disease of forged contracts, an existence that is devoid of innocence and spontaneity; we are stunned by the princess Turandot’s habit of killing all suitors (and not only them) using the excuse that it is her way of saving the nation.
In varying degrees, all the characters display the tendency to suppress conscience and overcome disagreeable aspects of life in order to assure sheer survival and some degree of individual comfort, while, of course, pretending to ensure peace and prosperity in the country. Tragically, their survival and comfort depend on grotesque fantasies that reflect the chronic self-perpetuating deceits at the core of society. Commenting through the on and off-stage shadow puppetry, original music scores and set design, and above all the princess Turandot as a Javanese puppet, the play strips the society of all its pretexts and shows us the naked truth.
It reveals the history of totalitarianism, corruption, intrigue, cruelty, selfishness, rivalry and ineptitude. In this dystopian fairy tale consisting of a collection of parables, we are pulled into an atmosphere of manipulation. The characters are either victims or intimidators , mutually inflicting suffering or humiliation No one is just a spectator, no one is just a victim, no one is just torturer or teaser. Each of us is all of that in this collection of flowing fragments that bear witness to the deformed psychology at play.
Scenes, as fragments of individual and collective events, flow as a witness of the all times. Thanks to dramaturg Yana Meerzon and director Hélène Ducharme, skillfully veiled allusions point out that this fairy-tale is not only a depiction of the past, but a reminder of experiences possible in any place at any time. In the context of mises en scéne, the production’s director Hélène Ducharme offers a spectrum of well integrated theatrical forms and methods freshly approached and structured in order to convey a bitter history of power politics, gender relations, love and sacrifice, hate and survival. The original musical score composed by Lewis Caunter is an organic part of the performance’s composition. The acting is well suited to the play’s nature and most of the cast responds in the heightened style of the characters they portray.
Weakening the play’s undeniable impact was an insufficiently shaped rhythm in which conventional solutions (such as prison cells) slow down the flow of the action.
Do not miss this production of the Princess T. since it is a great contribution to the Ottawa theater scene. Its staging inventiveness and plot will definitely hold your interest.
Playwright Daniela Fischerova
Dramaturge: Yana Meerzon
Director: Hélène Ducharme
Assistant Director: Ekaterina Shestakova
Stage Management: Davon Hersovich & Tallulah Learn
Set Design: Margaret Coderre-Williams
Costumes/Makeup/Wig Design: Annie Lefebvre
Lighting Design: Jingwei Zhang
Sound Design: Lewis Caunter
Puppet Design: Marie-Claude Labrecque
Lighting Crew Head: Matthew Skilton
Makeup/Wig Crew Head: Ridan Lavoie-Whittall
Production Manager: Moke Connors
Set Crew Head: Natasha Graham
Props Master: Jameelah Rahey
Costume Crew Head: Kariane Lachance
Puppet Mechanism: Jean Cummings
Publicity Head: Emily Soussana
Front of House head: George Banforth
Paul J. Piekoszewski ………Altoum
Clowns……………………..Alex Beraldin, Ian Huffam, Troy Arsenian, Samuel Dietrich,
Shadow puppet performers: Morgan Briault, Natasha Graham, Lily Sutherland,