A GOD IN NEED OF HELP by Sean Dixon (Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman). Runs to May 25, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm,.
A GOD IN NEED OF HELP by Sean Dixon (Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman). Runs to May 25, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, Sunday, May 3 and 10 at 2:30 pm. $21-$53, $13 rush Friday and Sunday. 416-531-1827. See listing. Rating: NNNN
At the centre of Sean Dixon’s fascinating A God In Need Of Helps is a monumental painting by Durer, The Brotherhood Of The Rosary. It’s 1606, and four men chosen for their strength must carry it over the Alps from Venice to Prague.
A miracle – or what some see as a miracle – brings their journey to a halt when a group of Protestants attack the team and their captain.
Dixon’s script is, on one level, a courtroom drama, involving representatives of the secular Venetian state (John Cleland’s practical Zen) and the Vatican (Greg Ellwand’s art-loving Archbishop Borromeo) questioning the five to decide if a miracle occurred.
But the script is far more than that Dixon has drawn seven lively, theatrical characters, each of whom engagingly holds the spotlight for an enacted recollection of the events or, in the case of the judges, a reaction to the tales. At times the script echoes Rashomon in presenting subjectively different versions of the same story.
We meet the vicious captain (Dmitry Chepovetsky), slow but loyal oarmaker Marco (Alden Adair), witty actor Dolfin (Tony Nappo), retired soldier Cocco (Daniel Kash) and finally Rafal (Jonathan Seinen), a delicate but forceful young man who seems to come from a different world than his rough compatriots.
More and more secrets are divulged as their tales unfold, and director Richard Rose does a fine job of staging on Camellia Koo’s dark, mysterious set, lit by Kimberly Purtell, with the huge painting in the background. Its large, detachable frame sometimes stands between the audience and the actors, resulting in a vision of multiple stories, both that in Durer’s painting and the one told by the characters.
But there are other layers that have to do with the power of art, alchemy and medicine, ancient gods and more contemporary deities, topics that enrich the storytelling.
It’s too bad that much of the first act, cool and uninvolved, needs more passion. Happily that excitement develops in the more emotional second act, starting with Nappo’s light, appealing take on Dolfin.
The acting’s fine throughout, with a series of well-etched characters: Cleland’s nastily punctilious Zen Ellwand’s rule-bound Borromeo, seduced by fine paintings Adair’s sympathetic Marco Chepovetsky’s duplicitous mercenary Kash’s crude soldier with a surprising soft side and Seinen’s Rafal, with a secretive smile and a hidden agenda.
The play’s swift-paced conclusion intentionally leaves some key elements unresolved, but that’s what the best art does, tantalizing as much as satisfying.