Jennifer Tarver has become the go-to director for difficult scripts. Witness her brilliant work on two of last season’s most challenging plays, Sarah Kane’s Crave (for Nightwood) and Will Eno’s Thom Pain (for Tarragon).
“Those were both dream projects, things I would have chosen myself and tried to produce had they not been offered,” says Tarver, who as artistic director of Theatre Extasis has helmed one-of-a-kind productions like History Play and That Time.
“In both cases I was given complete freedom.”
She returns to the Tarragon this week with a similar carte blanche opportunity in The Fall, Greg Nelson’s psychological two-hander about politics and family secrets.
On the surface it doesn’t seem like a typical Tarver project. When I saw an early version – at SummerWorks 2005 – I thought it had lots of commercial potential. Tarver agrees.
“It’s unlike anything I’ve done,” she says. “I like the pace and the drive of it. Very plot-oriented, with lots of suspense. It’s like a playful puzzle. In one way the story could be movie-of-the-week material. But it’s been fun figuring out what it has to say as a live piece of theatre.”
Tarver is working later this year on a Portuguese opera for Queen of Puddings, and this summer she’s teaching a course for advanced singers in Sulmona, Italy. Opera’s a great love, although she has yet to direct one on a big scale in Toronto.
“As frustrating as it seems, my real love is working with singers,” she admits. “Getting them to engage in dramatic action and produce something vocally is one of the most amazing things. You almost never see it done properly, though. It’s like the search for the grail.”