Peter Froehlich and Kate Smith in Snapshot. Photo: Andrew Alexander
To celebrate its 10th anniversary, Gruppo Rubato has chosen a play that tells us the company is moving into much more sophisticated territory.
Sitting on two sides of the small upstairs space in the Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre, the audience focusses on the lone figure of Dalton. As played by Peter Froehlich, his reaction is intense, unsentimental, but entirely engulfed in his enormous grief that almost paralyses him. Dalton is talking to his wife who has just died, he seems to be calling her up, saying they will soon be together again. The ultimate gesture is already very clear in the opening monologue as Froehlich slowly picks up the brown case where Dalton has stored his revolver. He sits down and puts the gun to his head! Suddenly his grand-daughter Charlie (Teddy Ivanova) arrives. But does she really?
The play has nothing of a tearful or sentimental melodrama. In one sense, it has the qualities of a Japanese Noh play where the deceased character returns among the living to try to discover how it all happened and it is precisely the sound of two blocks knocking against each other that opens the doors to the “other side” and announces the arrival of the ghost of Leonora. This is what we hear and see in this play.
This performance has multiple qualities of Noh theatre, set up as a form of ritual. The cleaning up of Dalton’s house, the gathering of all the left overs of the dead wife including all the pictures that retell their life together, become the central ritual. However, the ghost returns, not to try to solve the way the person died, but rather to help explain the nature of the relationship between the couple and invite the partner to return with her.
Even if the author assured me she knows nothing about Noh drama, she did an amazing thing by capturing the spirit of this theatre. I will have to reveal the end unfortunately by saying that Balcome telescoped time between the moment Dalton first addresses his dead wife Leonora and the moment he finally joins her, thus giving us the illusion we were watching a play about the husband’s life after the death of his wife. The illusion seems to create a western style play where events unfold in a linear way, thus helping Dalton deal with his grief while they explain the most intense moments in the life of this couple.
However that does not seem to be the central dynamic here because this is a play about the passage of time. It in fact concerns the moment Dalton shoots himself and the flashes of memory and past experiences that whizz through his mind as he slowly dies.
The flashes begin as the grand-daughter appears to enter the picture, too late to do anything, and from that moment on, Dalton’s whole life spins before us. His own daughter’s voice comes through cyber space on a cell phone, a voice similar to that of those spirits who roam about and return to haunt his troubled mind that is in the process of abandoning the real world. Photos of Dalton’s past life with his wife also filter through multimedia flashes of images on the wall, appearing to reconstruct moments of their life as his wife drifts in and out of the acting space, taking on the form of various apparitions (played by Kate Smith) appearing to both the grand- daughter and Dalton.
Then suddenly it’s over, as the play connects back to the first moment when the grief struck husband took out his revolver and prepared to meet Leonora. The final discovery by the grand-daughter, Charlie makes it all clear.
Director Patrick Gauthier is always a thoughtful and talented director who likes challenges. Remember his version of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw in Laurier House. Balcome’s play shows us that Gauthier is attracted to “spirits” although there is still a feeling that something in this version of Snapshot is not quite right.
The play was done much too slowly. There is a tension and urgency in this situation which did not at all transpire. After all, Dalton himself is dying and he is being represented in a series of split seconds that show us his whole life is flying by before our eyes. Nothing has to be cut but the staging has to be given a different kind of rhythm, a feeling that events must advance much more rapidly as the “end” approaches, since Dalton’s consciousness is slowly fading, and the whirling of images and apparitions brings us closer to the conclusion
On the other hand, since this all appears to be the workings of Dalton’s mind traumatized by the death of his wife, the staging did not pay enough attention to the fact that Dalton is in fact reacting to a reality that is no longer his. He is in fact reliving something in his own mind and there has to be some form of separation between his present world and that of his past life where his grand-daughter (played rather well by Teddy Ivanova) is absorbed in her own problems and in the rediscovery of the life of her grand-parents through the snapshots.
Of course, the Dalton we see at that moment is annoyed because Charlie intrudes into his life and even insists on remaining when it is clear Dalton wants her to leave. But that does not change the fact that he is paralysed by a grief and locked away in a world that is quickly coming to an end. The actor’s interaction with the young girl showed nothing of that. The director seemed to take the text too literally. They might have tried to find that sense of Dalton’s separation, of his alienation, of his no longer belonging, by having the others move about the older man in another sphere of reality defined by another rhythm, by other forms of lighting. Not much use was made of lighting and that might have helped a lot.
The only figure that really connects with Dalton is the ghost of his wife who floats in and out. She also incarnates a younger woman who appears as a fantasy of youthful desire that draws Dalton closer to her as the material world falls away. All that was very beautifully suggested in the play but the staging did not go nearly deep enough to bring it all out.
Snapshot is a sort of momentary dream from which the audience will suddenly awake at the end, when it realizes that it was all already over! Time as related to the moment of death is unfathomable. It brings us back and forth in the most intriguing ways and that is what the director could play with in this very interesting theatrical situation that did not quite find its form.
Peter Froehlich was extremely good as the husband who has lost his will to live. The other actors are perfectly adequate but this is a director’s play and I did feel that Patrick Gauthier did not quite grasp the theatrical language of loss propelled through the inner workings of a mind torn apart by grief, in a body that is already literally dying. Definitely go see this with a totally open mind.
Snapshot by Karen Balcome plays at the Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre from September 25 to 29.
Snapshot by Karen Balcome
Directed by Patrick Gauthier
A Gruppo Rubato Production.
Costume and set design: Sarah Wagram
Lighting: Pierre Ducharme
Photography and projections: Andrew Alexander
Dalton Peter Froehlich
Charlie Teddy Ivanova
Leona/Lana Kate Smith
Plays September 25 to 29, 2012