Whispering pines : can the past be reconstructed?

Reviewed by Rajka Stefanovska

Categories: Professional Theatre

Whispering Pines is a story that tries to connect the present and the past. Starting in East Berlin towards the end of the Soviet Era and ending in present day Canada, it tells about two German artists (Bruno, a poet and Renate, a painter) who dream of freedom and a better future for their native country. After Thomas, a Canadian academic, comes into their home and their reality with gifts from across the wall and the promise of a free world, things change and become chaotic. Thomas falls in love with Renate, Bruno turns into an informant, and Renate’s brother is taken a prisoner. Years later, at Renate’s initiative, the three of them meet in Canada and attempt to reconstruct the events of their past.

The story left me somewhat confused. What did the author really want to say? Is it a story based on true facts? What is the outcome? What really happened? Is it an attempt to explore the meaning of truth, freedom, or human nature? Is there a message? It seems that director Brian Quirt  and  playwright Sanger  both wanted to put too much into one play and, consequently, failed on all fronts. There is nothing that suggests the Germany in that time – on the contrary; it looks very much like Canada today. Talking about life experience of free-spirited individuals in a time of repression and fear demands a lot of research, knowledge and understanding – all three things that the author, judging by the play, lacks.

The production feels more like a library story-time than a well-rounded performance. It is unnecessarily long and tiring. Very often repetition in the text – sometimes in an abridged and sometimes in a full version – makes it even more so. There is no atmosphere, place, time or characters.

The first act is set in Germany. The three actors read, talk and drink. The plot is so confusing that the audience hope for some resolution, or, rather, explanation in the second act. Then, the second set comes and, unfortunately, it does not help much. Set in Canada, it brings our protagonists together once more. The secret police files in East Germany have not been secret for years now, so that Bruno’s activities as the informant have become known. Parts of the play in the first act are read again. Bruno tries to say something in his defence, to explain himself, but has no the chance or cannot do that. This scene is repeated several times with slightly different wording. Each time a new possible piece of the truth is introduced. The never-ending exploration of what could have happened continues until the end of the play. The only well done scene is the very last one where the actors, revealing the sad destiny of Renate’s brother, looked like true characters on the stage for the first time. 

Exploration of the behaviour of individuals during challenging events in the past (or present) can be done in numerous ways, one of them being a philosophical approach, which leaves the audience with possible conclusions. The choice is up to the imagination of the author and interpretation of the director and the cast to realize this. In theatre, there are very few rules to follow. One of them is respecting the nature of media – and in terms of that, long reading sessions are not the best choice. The author obviously has not inspired the cast either. Not only do they not bring life to the characters (except for the last scene) but they also lost their focus during the second act more than once and stammered. The production as a whole feels amateurish and lacks passion, conviction, giving a sense that it is out of touch of reality. This was confirmed by the audience’s reaction, which, much like the play itself, was lukewarm.  

Ottawa, Rajka Stefanovska

30  octobre, 2011


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