BEATRICE & VIRGIL adapted by Lindsay Cochrane from the novel by Yann Martel (Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst). Runs to May 11. Pwyc-$45. 416-504-9971. See listings. Rating: N
You might expect the stage adaptation of a novel to tighten the book's themes and emphasize its visual and/or dramatic appeal. That's not the case with Lindsay Cochrane's clunky take on Yann Martel's 2010 novel, Beatrice & Virgil. What was disappointing on the page is unbearably dull onstage.
Damien Atkins plays Henry, a Martel-like novelist whose ambitious follow-up to his critically acclaimed bestseller (Martel wrote the massive hit Life Of Pi) is rejected by his publishers. After giving up writing, Henry and his pregnant wife move to an unnamed city where he meets a mysterious taxidermist (Pierre Brault), also named Henry, who seeks his help on a script he's penning about a donkey and a monkey.
Early in the book, Henry #1 questions the ethical and moral implications of depicting the Holocaust with anything but straight facts. That prepares us for Henry #2's allegory involving those eponymous animals with the names from Dante. For some reason Cochrane has dispensed with this, instead using tired symbols to telegraph the work's obvious mystery.
Also left under-explored is the idea of taxidermy, a clever metaphor for both the role of the artist and, as the book progresses, something more sinister.
Director Sarah Garton Stanley and a talented team of designers have heightened the play's self-referential quality, using a set (by Amy Keith) that at key moments reveals another set behind it.
But they overuse this device, and Ken Mackenzie's projections and toy-like replicas of the two animals are distracting and ineffective.
So is Atkins's strained, tiresome narration from the podium.
His interactions with Brault's taxidermist are more interesting, especially when the two play out scenes from the latter's play, although the obvious debt to Beckett's tramps makes even these bits feel derivative.