Berkeley Theatre stages a ‘two-fer’ evening 1

Review by Ellen S. JaffeReviewerEllen S.

In this dynamic double-bill, Botticelli in the Fire and Sunday in Sodom, playwright, Jordan Tannahill, looks into history and myth, spinning bits of information and “what-if’s” into drama relevant to the 21st century.  Beautifully acted and directed, this production of two world-premieres up at Canadian Stage shows the true power of theatre. Tannahill’s writing is dramatic, sharp and meaningful, with well-placed touches of humour.  Both plays are directed by recent graduates of the combined Canadian Stage/York University’s MFA program in theatre.  The same actors appear in both productions – a challenge they meet well.           Photos of BOTH play moments

Berkeley two-fer #1Berkeley two-fer #2

Botticelli in the Firedirected by Matjash Mrozewski, is a robust, lusty canvas, narrated by painter Sandro Botticelli, 500 years after his death. The action take place against a wall of grey “stone” blocks, carefully designed by James Lavoie, which could be the artist’s studio, the Medici palace, or The Void.  Salvatore Antonio gives Botticelli a confident swagger, showing his prodigious appetite for sex, art and life.  The plot centers around the painting of his masterpiece, “The Birth of Venus.” His mistress, the model, Clarice, elegantly played by Nicola Correia-Damude, was the wife of his patron, Lorenzo de Medici – played with taut menace by Christopher Morris. He also has sex with his apprentice, a talented boy named Leonardo, portrayed with intensity and intelligence by Stephen Jackman-Torkoff.
         Disaster looms when Florence is ravaged by plague, and the priest Savanarola, played by Alon Nashman, stirs up fear and hatred by blaming sodomites, as he threatens lives and burns art and artefacts in a “Bonfire of the Vanities.”  Nashman’s priest is calm, well-spoken, and deadly.  Despite Botticelli’s assertion that they are living in the “modern” Renaissance (which makes anachronisms like cell-phones and television interviews more plausible), Botticelli and Leonardo get caught in his web. Botticelli must choose between love & art, who to save and who (or what) to betray.  “There is always a plague, always a fire, always a friar who wants to throw things in it,” he says.
Given the references to sodomy in Botticelli, it follows that the second play takes us to Sodom itself. Sunday in Sodom retells the Biblical story of Lot’s wife, turned into a pillar of salt for looking back as she and her family flee the city. Here she is named Edith, brilliantly portrayed by Valerie Buhagiar, who also gives an admirable performance as Botticelli’s mother in the first play. This second piece is tighter in both writing and directing. Estelle Shook’s direction kept the pace moving relentlessly – focusing attention on Edith’s version of the story. The play starts in a conversational manner and the mood becomes more urgent and terrifying as it goes on.  In a stunning design-concept, Lavoie and Shook have Lot’s wife remain in center-stage, immobilized in her pillar of salt.  The other characters – Lot (Nashman), their daughter Sahrah (Correia-Damude), a frightened Isaac (Jackman-Torkoff), and two soldiers, Chris (Antonio) and Derek (Morris) – all revolve around Edith, literally and figuratively.  The play suggests current problems such as refugees escaping warfare and natural disasters, and, finally, it demonstrates how a mother’s love for her child can cause her to risk her own safety – a universal emotion.

Steve Lucas’s lighting and Samuel Sholdice’s sound design are excellent in both productions.“Botticelli in the Fire & Sunday in Sodom” runs through May 15th at Canadian Stage’s Berkeley Street Theatre.  I urge you to see it.

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