By James Karas
Botticelli in the Fire and Sunday in Sodom by Jordan Tannahill. Directed by Matjash Mrozewski (Botticelli) and Estelle Shook (Sunday) with Salvatore Antonio (Botticelli/ Chris), Valerie Buhagiar (Madre Maria/Edith), Nicola Correia-Damude (Clarice/Sarah), Stephen Jackman-Torkoff (Leonard/Isaac), Christopher Norris (Lorenzo/Derek), Alon Nashman (Savonarola/Lot). At Berkeley Street Theatre until May 15, 2016. www.canadianstage.com
What do Sandro Botticelli and Lot’s wife have in common? That depends on your imagination, I suppose, but we can be sure of one thing: both can be seen on stage at the Berkeley Street Theatre in a double bill by Jordan Tannahill.
The one-act plays are based on some historical facts and the active imagination of Tannahill. Costumes and speech are modern with liberal use of coarse language and raunchy scenes.
Christopher Morris and Salvatore Antonio in Botticelli. Photo Cylla von Tiedemann
Botticelli in the Fire deals with the painting of The Birth of Venus, Botticelli’s relations with Clarice, the model for Venus and the wife of his patron Lorenzo de Medici. For good measure we also have Leonardo, a young artist and sexual partner of Botticelli as well as Savonarola, the deeply moral friar who may have had a great influence on the artist.
The play displays some fine and witty prose which to my surprise did not generate any laughter the day I saw it. The salty language is quite delightful and the sexual content, well, very sexual.
We are made to understand in no uncertain terms that Botticelli was priapically gifted. His first conquest is the deliciously assembled Clarice who puts her social status and influence as Botticelli’s benefactor to pleasurable use.
But Botticelli is not a specialist and he displays his open-mindedness with the muscular Leonardo. The moral voice of Savonarola arrives and of course the painting of the The Birth of Venus not to mention Clarice’s husband finding out some unpleasant facts.
Salvatore Antonio plays Botticelli and acts as commentator/chorus in the play. He starts with a microphone addressing the audience directly and steps out of character several times during the performance. This Botticelli is a free-spirited artist who takes chances but is also influenced by a devoted friar.
You are drawn into the fascinating subject – human, artistic, religious, spiritual – and enjoy a well-performed and well directed performance.
Valerie Buhagiar and Nicola Correia-Damude in Sunday in Sodom. Photo Cylla von Tiedemann
The second play is Sunday in Sodom about the nameless wife of Lot who was turned into a pillar of salt in the Old Testament because she disobeyed God and looked back after her escape from Sodom. As with Botticelli, Tannahill gives the play a moderns setting with racy language.
Mrs. Lot gets a name, Edith, and is superbly played by Valerie Buhagiar. Edith stands still on stage as if she were a pillar of salt and she narrates much of the play. We start with a terrified Isaac whose father Abraham took him to a mountain, tied him to a rock and was about kill him when he suddenly stopped. We know that a loving God stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son, but Isaac does not know that.
Isaac is given shelter by Lot and he happens to be homosexual. The Lots have a couple of wounded soldiers visit them. Terrorists have blown up the market place and the soldiers, who speak only English and cannot be understood by the Lots seek assistance.
Edith has an outspoken and very independent daughter named Sarah (in a spirited performance by Correia-Damude) and we have scenes of modern domestic disputes with the Biblical story in the background.
Tannahill gives us original and interesting takes on Botticelli and the story of Lot and Sodom. The plays are done with a minimum of props and a maximum attention on acting and close directorial attention.