Saturday, October 16, 2010


Ngozi Paul as Julia and Ashley Wright as Fernando. Photo by Bruce Zinger

Summer is over and the theatre season has opened in earnest. The professional and amateur theatre compnies have opened their intitial productions and the eternally optimistic audience has begun looking for that great production of a great play. Let’s start with a list of plays that you will be able to see in he coming months: Fernando Krapp Wrote me this Letter, The Anderson Project, Studies in Motion, Saint Carmen of the Main, The Cosmonaut’s Last Message to the Woman he Once Loved in the Former Soviet Union and Untitled.

How many of those plays do you recognize? Where are they playing?
The answer to the first question may be “none” and the guess to the second question may well be that the plays are being produced by some experimental company in a theatre that you need your GPS to find.

Would you believe, as Maxwell Smart used to say, that they make up the Canadian Stage Company’s new season at the Bluma Appel Theatre?

Canadian Stage has a new Artistic and General Director in Matthew Jocelyn. He replaced Martin Bragg who served in the post for 17 years. A Torontonian, Jocelyn has spent most of his artistic life in Europe. Words used to describe his approach are bold, innovative, trans-disciplinary and redefining. The titles of the plays alone tell us that Canadian Stage Company and the Bluma Appel Theatre may never be the same.

For his first production Jocelyn has chosen German playwright Tankred Dorst’s Fernando Krapp Wrote me this Letter: An Attempt at the Truth which he translated and of course directed. On the surface it is a simple, almost mythical story. But it is the type of play where most of the action takes place beneath the surface and in the end you are left scratching your head. This is not intended to be a light evening out for the tired businessperson.

When the play begins, Julia (Ngazi Paul) tells us that Fernando Krapp “wrote me a letter”. Julia is a poor woman who lives with her father in a city. Fernando is very wealthy and he gave some money to Julia’s father (Walter Borden) and consequently she accuses her father of selling her to Fernando. She is adamant that she wants nothing to do with Fernando.

Fernando (Ashley Wright) appears and he is not a sleazy or tough Donald Trump-type tycoon. He is a rather jolly, overweight man wearing a beige-coloured three piece suit. He is arrogant, to be sure and wants his way but he does not seem nasty at all. He marries Julia and they seem to be quite happy.

The Count (Ryan Hollyman) visits Julia and they get along quite nicely. Is Fernando jealous? No. Are Julia and the Count having an affair? No. Let’s go over the last propositions again. In a bizarre way, we will find Julia and the two men in her life in a mental hospital. She is mentally ill and Fernando and the Count are psychiatrists. Julia is cured and at home and we see the two men with her again.

The plot moves seamlessly and without any connecting logic from one point to the next. This is theatre of the absurd that make sense and no sense. As the subtitle of the play states, Fernando’s letter and the play itself may be an “attempt at the truth” but you are never sure what the truth is or for that matter what is the question. In other words, you cannot find the truth if you do not know what you are looking for and Dorst does not give you too many clues to assist you in your search.

This is theatre of questions and not answers; of “what was that all about” head scratching and a desire to see the play again or find out more about it. Perhaps that is the highest compliment one can pay to both director and author.

The real question however is if this production and the other plays on this season’s roster will bring people to the Bluma Appel Theatre. Let’s hope that it does.

Fernando Krapp Wrote me this Letter: An Attempt at the Truth by Tankred Dorst opened on September 28 and will run until October 16, 2010 at the Bluma Appel Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front Street East, Toronto, Ontario.

1 comment:

  1. dear mr. karas, i am sharing with you a letter that i addressed to your colleage robert cushman, xx michael roloff


    Dear Mr. Cushmann,
    I have read with interest your and the other reviews that the Toronto Performance of Dorst/ Unamuno's FERNANDO KRAPP
    has elicited among Canadian reviewers. If Mr. Joycelin think the play has anything even remotely to do with theater of the
    absurd he appears to have misread as well as misrepresented it. The story dates to 1920, at which point super successful
    capitalists such as Fernando could exercise the "droit de seigneur" of the now exhausted aristocracy. It is a society in a
    stage of transition, also sexually. Julia would like to be her master's whore, who however puts her on a pedestal
    while he slakes those desires with the servants. Power! Sex! Property! their inter-play are the matters that the play present to be
    entertained by the audience. The psychiatrists come in where a vibrator would be more useful, Freud was still news
    in 1920. Thus the play is a kind of tragedy, Fernando's.

    However, I have a question for you. As the play's first translator the Canadian Stage asked me for it in December
    of last year, but then found a copy of the book [German Drama Contemporary, Carl Weber, editor.
    Johns Hopkins University Press ] in Toronto. Mr. Joycelin does not know German,
    however in three months - between December and March of this year he appear to have learned German well
    enough to translate the play, present it to the agent for the rights, Suhrkamp Verlag, for approval. I heard
    from someone at Canadian Stage that my translation was merely made adaptable for British/ Canadian usage.
    Canadian Stage have refused to send me a copy of "their" version, which, surprisingly, uses my own
    actually incorrect title. A few of the reviews find the translation hiccuppy, your take on it makes it
    seem much more the sort of thing I arrived it. Anyhow, compare what you can read in the book
    with what you saw. The play premiered here in Seattle at the AHA theater in 1996, it had its first reading
    at Arne Zaslove's BATHHOUSE theater, the translation was vetted by my then old time collaborator
    Carl Weber, we made a single change for the performance here; and approved by Suhrkamp who'
    alerted Canadian Stage not to use my translation. After my signature I append your fine review
    for those who have not seen it.
    Very truly yours,

    "Chicquita abracas a todos"


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