Casimir And Caroline feels timely but lacks momentum

CASIMIR AND CAROLINE by Odon von Horvath, adapted by Paolo Santalucia, Holger Syme and the Howland Company (Howland). At Streetcar.

CASIMIR AND CAROLINE by Odon von Horvath, adapted by Paolo Santalucia, Holger Syme and the Howland Company (Howland). At Streetcar Crowsnest (345 Carlaw). Runs to February 9. $25-$40. See listing. Rating: NNN

Weve all been to that raucous office party where secrets have spilled, crushes have been confessed and careers have come crashing down after too many cocktails. Thats the backdrop of Casimir And Caroline, a new adaptation of Austro-Hungarian writers Odon von Horvaths 1932 play, although the piece is about a lot more than drunken office politics.

In his program note for this Howland Company production, translator/co-adapter Holger Syme explains that the play premiered in Berlin in the fall of 1932, when the country was in the grip of an economic crisis and the Nazi Party was on the rise.

Since the 2008 recession, the play has received numerous productions in the German-speaking world. And its easy to see the relevance of mounting the show in its North American premiere here in our present economic and political moment.

Thirtysomething Casimir (Alexander Crowther) has just lost his job as a chauffeur at an unnamed corporation, and his fiancee Caroline (Hallie Seline), who also works there, is sort of breaking up with him. Also: his cellphone is broken.

The two are now at an outdoor office party where theres a lot else going on. Caroline is chatting up the stylish Sanders (Michael Ayres), which makes Casimir jealous. Meanwhile Shira (Kimwun Perehinec), from the Montreal office, is here to oversee something major, possibly involving bigwig Rankin (James Graham), whos got his eyes on others in the crowd.

Director Paolo Santalucia, who adapted the play with Syme and the company, brings lots of energy to the show, even though it does eventually dissipate.

Ken MacKenzies balloon-strewn set and Jeremy Huttons sound design make it seem like were on a rooftop garden, with sounds emanating below on the street. The first act benefits greatly from Reanne Spitzers choreography, which helps break up chunks of dialogue with bursts of physical abandon. But Evan MacKenzies compositions of electronic buzzing and staticky sounds occasionally feels off-key and fussy.

Whats missing from the script and production is a sense of momentum. The party seems to have no goal or purpose no ones retiring, theres no prepared speech or push for productivity.

And the central pair dont know what they want. Will Casimirs unemployment affect their relationship? Does Caroline, whos also struggling, now want to hook up with someone else including Casimirs wealthy former boss?

These questions are suggested but not answered, which might feel true to life, but arent dramatically gripping. Caroline at one point says, Thats an idea, which reflects the kind of non-commitment embraced by many in the show. Watching characters filled with apathy and uncertainty just isnt very interesting.

Much better are Graham, whose arrogance and toxic masculinity are palpable, and Perehinec, who can suss out a situation at a glance. The scene in which a grovelling, drunken employee named Mary (Veronica Hortiguela) fawns over her is a tidy little duet about power imbalance.

Shruti Kothari brings a knowing tone to her shrewd observer Ellie. And Michael Chiem is refreshing as the grounded, optimistic intern Trevor.

Theres lots of absurdity in the script, along with fascinating conversations about goodness and morality among the haves and have-nots. These work fine in small doses but become tiresome after two hours.


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