SVENGALI'S devised and directed by Paul Bettis, with Rosa Laborde, Greg Morris, Alan Rosenthal, Bruce Vavrina and Earl Pastko. Presented by Civilized Theatre and Salon Productions at the Theatre Centre (1087 Queen West). Runs to November 30, Thursday-Saturday 8 pm. $15-$25. 416-538-0988. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Director paul bettis is a playful guy, and he often likes to tease his audience with his creations. His latest, Svengali's, applies the strictures of a "rule play" to the popular 1894 novel Trilby. You might know the story not from its title character, but from its legendary manipulator, Svengali, who uses hypnosis to transform artist's model Trilby into a renowned singer.In a rule play, the actors follow a set of regulations to decide which scenes to present, in what order, who takes the lead and so on. Part of the fun for the viewer, in fact, is figuring out the rules and seeing their influence on how the story is narrated. Though the main storyline is always presented, each performance is different, since the number of scenes will vary and their order is fluid.
In the transformed Theatre Centre, turned into a somewhat grotty Latin Quarter cabaret by Chris Clifford, we sit at cabaret tables and watch the action stage-managed by the mesmerizing Svengali (a perfectly cast Earl Pastko). Justin C. Roddy's sound blends romantic music of the period with ocular-themed pop standards like Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, The Look Of Love and These Eyes.
The trio of artists fascinated by Trilby (Greg Morris, Alan Rosenthal and Bruce Vavrina) keep the action moving on and off a central posing platform, and Rosa Laborde's enigmatic Trilby -- she has the blank stare of the hypnotized victim down pat -- displays an allure that explains the men's enchantment with her. By the end, the voyeuristic audience is itself more than a little seduced, too.