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Monday, 18 April 2011 21:04

Royal pain

Written by Bob Wilcox
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mustardseedtheatre.com
mustardseedtheatre.com

Mustard Seed Theatre's artistic director Deanna Jent has created a convincingly playable adaptation of C.S. Lewis's novel Till We Have Faces. In his novel, Lewis wrote his own version of the Greek myth of Psyche and Eros, and play and novel present the essentials of that ancient tale. But Lewis, and Jent following him, make the focus of their version not Psyche herself but her old sister Orual, like Psyche the daughter of a king, eventually herself the ruler of the land.

From the looks of Donna Northcott's rich and handsome costumes, this kingdom appears to be somewhere east of Greece, existing in generic mythic times. Dunsi Dai's massive stone set completes the picture, with Michael Sullivan's lights and the sound design of Jent and Kareem Deanes evoking an air of mystery at appropriate moments.

With most scenes set in the royal court, the language often has a formal quality, verging even on the stiff. Fortunately, adapter Jent has a smart director – herself – and a company of actors who almost always make the play's language and its supernatural occurrences convincing. Both Sarah Cannon and Michelle Hand play Orual, Cannon as the young princess and Hand as the queen. The double casting pays off with some of the best scenes in the play. Rory Lipede brings the requisite beauty, grace, and bravery to Psyche. Bess Moynihan has great fun as the middle sister, a spoiled brat – at least she would like to be spoiled. Robert Mitchell is their harsh, emotionally distant father, and Gary Glasgow brings many lovely touches to the Greek slave the king buys to be his daughters' skeptical, rational tutor. Shaun Sheley, as the handsome, heroic captain of the guard, captures the heart of Orual. Leslie Wobbe plays the captain's long-suffering wife and nicely holds her own in something of a cat fight with the queen. Richard Lewis wrings maximum suspense from his pronouncements as the Priest of the local diety, Jill Ritter can inject an ironic touch into her pronouncements as a priestess, and Justin Leibrecht and Phillip Bettison strut and boast as a pair of warring brothers.

Till We Have Faces is an admirable production. If I find it less than satisfying, the fault lies, I think, in the source material (which I have not read) and in my own attitude toward the fantasy genre – which is, of course, with his Narnia tales and other books, a speciality of C.S. Lewis. Supernatural elements are essential in Greek myths. But in a piece like this, with its focus on the psychology of the central character and the modern sensibility that exploration entails, what are we to make of the miraculous elements? They are not a part of my world; how then does this play and those parts of it speak to my world? Will I have to wait, like the skeptical Greek tutor, till after death to be convinced of the reality of the unreal?

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