The Red Priest (Eight Ways To Say Goodbye) by Mieko Ouchi, directed by Ron Jenkins, with Ouchi and Ashley Wright. Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman). Runs to May 2, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2:30 pm. $22-$27, Sunday pwyc-$15, stu/srs discount. 416-531-1827. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Set in a stylized 18th-century French garden, Mieko Ouchi 's beautifully crafted The Red Priest (Eight Ways To Say Goodbye) plays out the growing understanding and tenderness between composer Antonio Vivaldi and a courtier's wife. The unnamed Woman (Ouchi) is the victim of a cruel joke. Her husband bets King Louis that the visiting Vivaldi ( Ashley Wright ), dependent on patronage from the nobility, can teach her to play the violin for a court recital in six weeks. She knows her marriage is on the rocks; her teacher is privately acerbic but publicly optimistic, even clownishly sycophantic, about the lessons.
Under Ron Jenkins 's careful direction, the two literally dance around each other for the first third of the play, wearing the masks of wealthy employer and hired help. But then they let those public faces drop and, in the lyrical play's brief, open-ended scenes, slowly get to know one another.
They each fear rejection, understand their lack of freedom and long for a human connection. What we witness is a subtle flirtation and growing love story set to the underscoring of Vivaldi's ravishing music.
Each figure holds onto a treasure that is alive, changing and multi-faceted. For Vivaldi it's music, for the Woman her garden (splendidly designed by David Boechler and lit by Michael Kruse ), and one of the joys of the play is that we see both learn to value what the other holds dear.
With the precision of a concert duo, Ouchi and Wright - think of them as a violin and cello spinning out the dramatic melody - take us into the characters' hearts, bringing to a poignant crescendo their unspoken, nuanced affection for each.