Mary-Colin Chisholm and Dennis Fitzgerald share a forced moment in And Slowly Beauty....
AND SLOWLY BEAUTY… by Michel Nadeau, translated by Maureen Labonté (Tarragon, 30 Bridgman). To March 31. $27-$53, some discounts, pwyc mat March 23. 416-531-1827. See listings. Rating: NN
Epiphanies need to be earned; they shouldn't be shoved in your face. Unfortunately, Michel Nadeau's And Slowly Beauty... does the latter. It's a play about the magic of the theatre that fails to generate much magic of its own.
The aptly named Mr. Mann (Dennis Fitzgerald) is your basic Everyman - nondescript government job, busy wife (Caroline Gillis), two children (Celine Stubel, Shawn Ahmed) - who's been living a pleasant but unexamined life. After winning tickets in an office draw, he attends a production of Three Sisters and emerges reborn, questioning - like Chekhov's wistful characters - his ideas of happiness, love and the meaning of it all.
This synopsis sounds quite lovely, but the script and Michael Shamata's overly fussy production never make you believe in Mann's transformation. He tells us he's changed, sees and hears echoes of those Moscow-craving women in his daily life and keeps going back to the theatre for another fix.
Fitzgerald, meanwhile, is required to stare meaningfully at his family, smile enigmatically as though he's harbouring some cosmic secret and - in one of the most painfully clichéd scenes - hear a speech about the uniqueness of snowflakes.
The results feel phony. We don't care for Mann's predicament because we don't know much about his earlier life. And his scenes with various urbanites - a woman who works in a café (Mary-Colin Chisholm), two homeless people - come across as patronizing.
The most moving sections concern Mann's visits to a hospitalized colleague (Christian Murray). It's here that he's forced to confront big themes like death and mortality with his false cheer.
A simpler design might help the production. John Ferguson's set is overly complicated and his costumes bland, while Brooke Maxwell's sound design of soothing sighs, hums and electronic riffs is so earnest it's irritating.
There's beauty in theatre and art. Just not so much here.