There are times when I leave the theatre feeling angry and not because a play has tapped into some important truth or uncovered controversy, but rather because a competent company has presented a less than fully realized production. This is how I felt after seeing Liv Stein.
Written by German playwright Nino Haratischwili at the age of twenty-five, the play peers into the life of celebrated pianist Liv Stein, who loses her son Henri tragically to cancer, after which she gives up on life and throws away her career and marriage. Enter the enigmatic Lore who claims to have been Henri’s lover at boarding school. Lore breathes life back into Stein through music and finely crafted stories about her son. She seems to enchant everyone she comes into contact with including the ex-husband and his new wife.
Matthew Jocelyn directed the play and I’m not sure if he was going for a stylized look, because at times that’s what I was getting while at other times I was wondering about all the clunky blocking that looked so unnatural and inorganic. Why did the actors jump around from seat to seat? It was like they were directed to plant their bottoms on every surface of the stage for no apparent reason. If that was the direction, it was up to the actors to make sense of it and they didn’t. Why was the stage business so false? Why did an actor pretend to fill two glasses with wine and then a few minutes later actually fill the wine? Why did an actor flick on and off a light like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction for no apparent purpose? Why did actors pretend to light cigarettes three times and then later actually smoke fake cigarettes? How could an actor get a glass of water from the tap in 2.5 seconds? These moments to me came across as so Acting 101 and I’m not sure how Jocelyn could have let that fly.
Geraint Wyn Davies plays Emil Stein and quite frankly I expect more from someone who has performed 19 seasons at Stratford. I spent most of the time wondering why he was yelling all his lines and where these emotional outbursts were coming from, none of it seemed rooted in authenticity. Leslie Hope plays the central character Liv Stein and is interesting to watch but her performance seemed superficial. This character is written as a woman who has spent fourteen months living in a filthy house after the tragic death of her son. Hope seemed way too put together and on top of things. Where was the tortured underbelly of her character who recently witnessed her only son die an agonizing death? Sheila Ingabire-Isaro plays Lore, is beautiful to look at and would probably give some top models a run for their money. There is a quirkiness about her that I don’t think she has fully embodied yet, so many of her impulses didn’t quite land—she didn’t seem to quite believe in them herself.
I enjoyed watching Caroline Gillis as Simone as she was the only one on stage that appeared to be actually listening and responding naturalistically. She has a believable groundedness and rooted the action when she was on stage, which wasn’t often enough. The central characters spent 105 minutes talking at and blustering at each other and I quickly tuned out.
Debra Hanson created a handsome set and beautiful costumes to look at. The gowns were especially exquisite.
The script was weak to begin with but the direction didn’t help matters. So often I think simplicity is the stronger choice and there was nothing simple about this staging.
Liv Stein is on stage now through February 12. For more information or tickets please visit: www.canadianstage.com