Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Cruelty In Love & War @ The Canadian Stage Co.

Atom Egoyan is the director of a rich body of intellectually stimulating work. The critically acclaimed filmmaker gravitates towards directing films and operas that are provocative in subject matter. Therefore, his choosing to direct Cruel and Tender was not surprising. Written by British playwright Martin Crimp, Cruel and Tender is a modern play based on the ancient Greek tragedy, Trachiniae by Sophocles. 

Egoyan has created a bizarrely, heightened world, in which he invites us to examine the atrocities of war and the disintegration of a marriage. The forlorn and scorned Amelia is played sorrowfully by ArsinĂ©e Khanjian who anticipates her husband’s return from war in Africa. Amelia doesn’t expect her husband, known as The General, to send his lover Laela and a small child to their home; a lover for which he annihilated an entire city. 

Desperate to win back her husband, Amelia concocts a plan involving a potion, which consequently backfires on her and sets the tragedy in motion. Khanjian needed more of an acerbic edge to play the role of the jilted woman. 

Members of the chorus cleverly tried to distract Amelia from spiralling into a world of despair. A handful of moments of comic relief are delivered by the modern chorus singing karaoke off-key. The standout performances were that of Daniel Kash as the maniacal General and Abena Malika as the bold mistress, Laela. Kash is a veritable powerhouse and played the role of the psychologically traumatized General perfectly with capricious intensity. Malika's command of the stage is impressive and she gets the opportunity to show off her rich singing voice. 

With its stark white, massive walls, the sterile set designed by Debra Hanson resembled that of an airplane hangar and a large storage space. 1/3 of the stage was completely bare, which was an interesting artistic choice. 

Breaking glass was a repetitive motif signifying fragility, which resonated with the shattered marriage and broken home. There is nothing tender about a play that deals with the politics of war and the harsh realities wherein violence permeates into the private sphere. 

Written by: Martin Crimp
Directed by: Atom Egoyan
Starring: Arsinée Khanjian

Cruel and Tender plays at the Bluma Appel Theatre until February 18. --- Alison Silveira 

Photo Credit: Bruce Zinger

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