I’ve just come home from opening night of Nino Haratischwili’s play Liv Stein presented by Canadian Stage, directed by Matthew Jocelyn.
The first time I see something, a big part of my energy does into distinguishing between what’s exciting in the presentation as opposed to what’s exciting about the text. And as I start to get a sense of that text I find myself quibbling, wondering what if it had been done this way or that way, instead.
As a new play Liv Stein is quite an interesting story, and an absorbing evening in the theatre in Jocelyn’s hands. There are elements to the story that remind me very strongly of other texts, but if I were to take a playwright to task for being derivative, then I’d have to forgive Shakespeare and Brecht and a host of other playwrights.
I hate giving stories away, aiming for a spoiler-free approach. But this is a mysterious tale, one that invites us to speculate about the relationships, to question the stories we’re told. It’s less of a whodunit than a poetic meditation, getting us to feel the various connections between the characters and to question the validity of the world as portrayed. At times Jocelyn invites us to interrogate the surfaces, because we may feel that there’s much more going on.
That there are fantastic and poetic elements to this story was clear to Jocelyn, who opted to insert theatrical elements into his presentation, employing a style that at times calls attention to itself, pushing us away a little bit. It’s not excessively Brechtian, but it’s also not trying to be realistic. And so we’re invited to think about how this story works and how it makes us feel.
Liv Stein is a famous pianist who has abandoned her career in the aftermath of her son’s death. A young woman appears who knew her son. The gradual unfolding of her story reminded me of Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation, where a con artist pretends to be familiar with children of the family. I think we’re always wondering in Liv Stein: is this really a friend of Henri, Liv’s dead son, or is she a phony?
And so Jocelyn doesn’t make his stage-picture overly realistic, nor his actors terribly precise in their portrayal of musicians (Liv the concert pianist, her ex-husband Emil, who teaches music, and Lore, the young interloper who is also supposedly a pianist). We’re in the midst of an intellectual maze, seeking to discern truth, although it’s clouded by some powerful feelings. The language of Birgit Schreyer Duarte’s new English translation steers clear of musical jargon, staying instead in the realm of emotions and family dynamics.
I think you’ll have to see for yourself as to whether you’re seduced by the aptly named Lore’s stories. There’s a physical eloquence to Sheila Ingabire-Isaro that makes her immediately captivating in this white-bread world that she’s invaded, and might be on the verge of conquering: if plot trajectories were completely predictable. But this is not a banal story, the outcome not at all what I expected.
Liv Stein plays at the Bluma Appel Theatre until Feb 12th.