Sixteen tableaux performed by a huge cast of students including a chorus that not only speaks but also transforms itself into parts of the set and integrated symbolic forms, reveals the enormous talents of Miriam Cusson, candidate for the Masters in directing in the theatre department of Ottawa U. She actually choreographs as much as directs this string of sado masochistic rituals of martyrization, and frenzied physical desire set off by the site of the sacrificial victim – violated, slashed and mutilated. A playful mise en abyme of a contemporary horror show where the director brings in the voyeuristic faces of the chorus peering out from the back of the set as they gaze on a whole society coming to pieces. There is the lust, the exhibitionism, the penitence…some of the most violent human instincts come crashing down on the spectator in this captivating parade of ceremonies that holds our attention every second of the evening. . The thread that runs through the performance is inherited from the Elizabethan (or Jacobean) Vengeance tragedies of Thomas Kyd a contemporary of Shakespeare; however, it owes even more to the ultimate vengeance tragedy Thyeste by the roman playwright Seneca that so intrigued Artaud
. Inspired by the ancient Greek myth of the hate and rivalry between two brothers, Thyeste and Atrée who vied for power after the death of their father. Atree who was at first “cheated” out of his rightful heritage by a schemeing Thyeste, finally came to power and banished his brother. Pretending to seek a reconciliation with Thyeste in later years, Atrée invited his brother to feast at his table at a most horrid meal, the antithesis of the last supper, and thus he achieved his cruel vengeance on this brother. The nausteating banquet is taken from Seneca as it found its way into the final act of Shakespeare’s Titus Adronicus which ultimately concludes Strauss’ own play, paying its respects to one of the hightlighted horrors of the Greek narrative.
(photo. Marianne Duval) Corinne Sauvé et Gilles Provost
Opening this play at the U. of Ottawa, is a mocking chorus of “refined” citizens who tells us we are entering a perfect world where all is order and security. When Titus, the roman general who has returned to the City, orders the killing of Tamara’s children. Tamara, the Queen of the Goths, the enemies of Rome, pleads frantically for their lives but Titus shows no mercy and even though Saturnin marries Tamara , this first encounter sets off a cycle of vengeance between the family of The Goth and that of Titus. Tamara’s first act of vengeance falls upon Livinia, Titus’ beloved daughter. This takes us on to the final act of revenge against Tamara, organized by Titus. The string of avenging acts structures this performance illustrated and punctuated by rituals that retell the various phases of this decadent world, inspired by Botho Strauss’ own contemporary context as well as the Greek myth placed in a Greek setting as retold by the Roman playwright. All these levels of retelling, of mise en abîme, are cleverly fore grounded by Cusson’s own interpretation of the Strauss’ play which ends on a rather positive note as the young child, played by the venerable Gilles Provost, tells us he is leaving because he can no longer live in this world. Something better is certainly in store.
The performance integrates metatheatrical effects that have the actors discussing their characters, changing costumes, having one of the characters/actors read the directors notes about the play, much to the dismay of the director who becomes a character in the performance, leading her own chorus, transforming the citizens into the living image of a medusa like tree where the bodies will eventually be hung, a group of crouching and wavy forms that even suggest a Béjart style of choreography. Later, there are astounding moments of staging where Coderre-Williams delicate lighting highlights the shadow-like performance of Lavinia’s murder, the parody of the last supper where the vengeance horror is revealed, and the chorus becomes the table/alter where the sacrifice takes place. There are so many astute and interesting moments of this kind that one tends not to notice the fact that director Miriam Cusson appears to have neglected to undertake a deep reading of the text with most of her actors. While Stéphanie Kym Tougas was a striking, poised, and powerfully evil avenging mother and lustful Goth Queen who rose above the whole cast, the others had great difficulty modulating the text, projecting their voices, or transmitting the rhythms and shifting emotions of that special discourse. Not an easy thing to do but they definitely needed more work on their voices. There were some potentially good actors here. Xavier Lord-Girous as Titus has much potential as does Lucien Zuchuat (Aaron)who also moves beautifully. Alain Lauzon as the guilt ridden Chiron who becomes the twisted penitent and tortured lover of his Lavinia (Corinne Sauvé). Sophie Régimbald also was very interesting and she dealt with the text in a way that was usually very clear, bringing in a mature interprétation as Livinia’s compagnon and performing as the director in this play within a play. It was clear that director Miriam Cusson felt more at ease working with her large chorus of actors, working with the space and the visual elements, exploiting Brian Smiths magnificent set , the panels of semi translucent material that flow around the area. Charles Rose (Bassian) has a clear strong voice that worked most of the time but Saturnin the other sibling (Julie Malenfant) was not always audible. Lavinia (Corrine Sauvé) was also quite effective as the martyrized daughter who becomes a grotesquely playful character forced to transcend her mutiliation by revealing the perverse nature of abjection and desire, when she becomes the object of her bourreau’s lust. The rape scene was staged as a physical interaction of moving bodies that again brought us back to a dance-theatre event where the actors loud yelling and horrified screams were very effective. The director played a central role in this brilliant text. Her choice of sound, music, also punctuated the slippage between ferocious humour, rage and moments of strange lyrical escapism that brought out the wicked irony of the play.
An extremely interesting and powerful interpretation of a most difficult play, performed by a whole cast that should be congratulated for its discipline as a group and for the special light that director Cusson was able to shed on the text. This is where the important training of future directors is taking place in Ottawa! After the magnificent production of Ionesco’s Jeux de Massacre directed by Sariana Monette-Saillant last season at Ottawa U., another great contemporary classic is given a highly imaginative reading by Cusson that is perfectly justifiable from every point of view.
Viol by Botho Strauss, based on Titus Andronicus (Shakespeare)and others….
Translated from the german by Michel vinaver and Barbara Grinberg
Directed by Miriam Cusson
Soudscape and music by Miriam Cuss on
Set Brian Smith
Lighting Margaret Coderre Williams
Costumes Judith de Boer and Isabelle Fillion
Nov. 18-22, 2014 Salle Académique, 20$
A production by La Comédie des Deux Rives
Saturnin Julie Malenfant
Bassian Charles Rose
Titus Xavier Lord –Giroux
Lavinia Corinne Sauvé
Tamora Stéphanie Kym Tougas
Demetrius Saylvain Sabatié
Chiron Alain Lauzon
Monica Sophie Régimbald
Le Garçon Gilles Provost and many many more..