BELLA DONNA By David Copelin, directed by Sue Miner, with Francoise Balthazar and Daniel Chapman-Smith. Presented by Burning Passions and Some Strange Reason at the Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs (26 Berkeley). Opens Friday (May 16) and runs to June 7, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Saturday 2 pm. $25-$28, Monday limited pwyc. 416-368-3110. Rating: NNNNN
One of history’s archetypal femmes fatales is about to get a stage makeover.
David Copelin’s Bella Donna, which won the 2005 Fringe Fest best play award for its script, is set in Renaissance Italy and tells the story of Lucrezia Borgia.
Borgia and her family – her father became the powerful Pope Alexander VI – are often considered the personifications of Machiavellian political and sexual corruption.
“A lot of the stuff written about Lucrezia was by her enemies,” says director Sue Miner. “This is David’s attempt at showing that she was a real person; she’s got a story to tell, too.”
Miner has helmed a lot of new scripts set in the past, like Orchidelirium, Monsieur D’Eon Is A Woman and The Vile Governess.
“It’s strange, because I don’t know very much about history,” she says. “Directing period pieces forces you to go out and learn things. This has been my education. Also, theatre allows you to take liberties and pretend.”
Part of her research, she says, involves studying the daily lives of people from other eras.
“I’ve got this collection of books called The History Of Private Life, and it tells you things like what people kept next to their beds, where and how they went to the toilet. These details might not make it onstage, but knowing them helps.”
Remounting a hit play from the Fringe is always a tricky proposition. Will the buzz your show generated a year or two ago still be around? Will expectations be higher now because your show’s competing with the rest of the theatre season?
“At the Fringe, there’s an immediate need to see something because you’ve only got six performances,” says Miner, the veteran director of countless Fringe hits and a few remounts.
“If a show gets remounted, people wait, feel they have time to see it, and then it passes by. Torontonians are so busy and self-involved – I know I am. So we’re trying to get people to come early to spread that word of mouth.”
This week marks a milestone for Miner. It’s her 20th year as a theatre director. (See below.)
“I don’t know how to do anything else – and I’m not exactly kidding,” she says, about the profession. “I’m more relaxed now not knowing what’s coming in terms of work. There’s always a time during tech week when I start looking at my options because I’m so miserable. But I keep coming back. I love telling stories. I love being told stories. That combination has kept me interested.”
On whether there's an identifiable Sue Miner style:
On how she chooses scripts to direct:
On scene changes and stage actions:
Here are a handful of highlights from Sue Miner’s 20 years as a director.
LOVE YOU FOREVER... AND MORE MUNSCH (2008) – Think Robert Munsch only appeals to kids? As director and co-adaptor (with Stephen Colella), Miner gave vivacious physical life to five Munsch tales, complete with ASL translations of the text, that pleased audiences of all ages.
CELINE SPEAKS and CONSERVATIVES IN LOVE (2007) – Miner showed off her versatility at last year’s Fringe, helming Laura Landauer’s campy homage to the pride of Charlemagne and Dave Carley’s sizzling satire about the sex lives of libidinous young conservatives.
MEDICI SLOT MACHINE (2006) – Miner turned this tender biography of reclusive artist Joseph Cornell into a series of delicate theatrical boxes filled with memories, echoing the collage boxes Cornell himself created.
TITUS ANDRONICUS and MEASURE FOR MEASURE (2000-2001) – Working with Shakespeare in the Rough (unfortunately now dissolved), Miner took two of the Bard’s more difficult plays and opened them up by staging wordless moments in the expanse of Withrow Park, adding to the plays’ emotional intensity.
SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE (2000) – Miner collaborated with students from George Brown Theatre and several Equity artists to give a colourful, insightful reading of Stephen Sondheim’s paint-and-song musical about Georges Seurat and his lover, Dot.
MONSIEUR D’EON IS A WOMAN (1999) –Tackling the French diplomat, soldier and spy who lived first as a man and then as a woman, Miner filled the light-hearted production with the theatrical equivalent of champagne bubbles.
THE MARTHA STEWART PROJECTS (1996) – Coordinating artistic director for one of the largest indie productions of the 90s, Miner invited some 40 theatre artists to interpret Ms. Stewart’s rules for elegant living. The result? Utterly divine, darling, and ever so tasteful.
THE BLUE WALL (1988) – Miner’s first play for Pea Green Theatre, written by partner Mark Brownell, looked at the people behind the blue police uniform. At times funny, at times severe, it gave theatrical life to social issues and intentionally hit an uncomfortable nerve in viewers.
JON KAPLAN/GLENN SUMI