Michael Shamata says Chekhov-inspired play celebrates the beauty in the ordinary.
AND SLOWLY BEAUTY… by Michel Nadeau, translated by Maureen Labonté, directed by Michael Shamata, with Dennis Fitzgerald, Caroline Gillis, Shawn Ahmed, Celine Stubel, Mary-Colin Chisholm and Christian Murray. Presented by the Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman). Runs to March 31, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2:30 pm (except Mar 30). $27-$53, Friday and Sunday rush $13, pwyc mat March 23. 416-531-1827. See listings.
Art can change a person's life, dramatically.
That theme is central to Michel Nadeau's And Slowly Beauty..., in which Mr. Mann, a stolid middle-management type, wins a pair of tickets to Chekhov's The Three Sisters and starts to look at the world differently after seeing the play.
"I fell in love with it the first time I read it," says Belfry Theatre artistic director Michael Shamata, who returns to helm the Tarragon production, a remount of the 2011 English-language premiere with most of the same cast. "The play not only celebrates the power of theatre; it also celebrates the beauty that exists in the ordinary."
A bureaucrat at a social services agency, married with two kids, Mann has a good enough life, even if his marriage has gone a little stale.
"As with others in their late 40s, a certain malaise has fallen on him, along with the suspicion that something's missing from his life," continues the director. "He wouldn't be able to articulate it more than that, if he could articulate anything at all.
"But at this point in his life, Chekhov's words resonate for Mann and make him wonder what his next step might be."
What most viewers remember about the Russian writer's Three Sisters is how the title characters, recalling their early days in Moscow while living in a provincial town, regard the city as a beacon, the promise of a better existence.
"Mixed in with that well-known yearning for something different are the characters' various viewpoints on the nature of life, including whether you should abandon your choices or current way of living and start over again," explains Shamata.
"The idea that Mann seizes on and defends is that life goes on, whether it's all good or all bad or a mix of the two."
Sound too philosophical? The production is filled with the humour of everyday situations, just as Chekhov's plays are, and develops a touch of magic realism along the way. That magic is in the storytelling as well as the narrative.
"This is a tale wrapped in a theatrical package," smiles Shamata, whose version of A Christmas Carol is a staple at Soulpepper, which is presenting his adaptation of Great Expectations this summer. "It jumps from scene to scene, actors changing characters before your eyes.
"We had a wonderfully creative time in the rehearsal hall inventing our vocabulary for how we'd move from one episode to another. The original French production was developed collectively, and in many ways we've done the same thing. That leads to a real democracy among the characters. All the leading figures get their time in the spotlight, and their stories are followed through."
Has Shamata ever directed Chekhov?
"Actually, no, in part because it's intimidating, difficult material, and I didn't feel like I had a way into it.
"Now I'm dying to do it. Working on this piece has given me some real insights about how to approach his work."