The Playhouse Theatre Company’s current world premiere presentation of The Amorous Adventures of Anatol proves that fine actors, a fun set and stunning costumes do not necessarily make a show work.
Based on a Harley Granville-Barker translation of Anatol by Austrian Arthur Schnitzler, this re-telling (or “re-visioning” as the Playhouse prefers) by Vancouver’s own uber-playwright/director Morris Panych makes up for what the show lacks in story with some stellar performances by the leads Mike Shara (Anatol) and Jennifer Lines (The Women), a spectacular set design and some spot-on costumes.
While both Shara and Lines sparkle in this rather shallow story, it is Lines in her role as all seven women that provides the highlight of the evening. Not only does she manage to imbibe a distinctiveness to each of the characters she portrays she is definitely missed when not on stage.
Told in a series of “episodes”, we meet seven of Anatol’s romantic conquests and quickly determine that while Anatol demands absolute loyalty from his romance-du-jour, the same cannot be said for Anatol himself. Anatol goes through each of his conquests much like an evening at the local bathhouse: never connecting with anyone beyond the physical and always wondering if the guy in the cubicle next door is hotter than the one you are currently servicing.
After the first couple of “episodes” the premise quickly loses interest. Who cares about a shallow man who has trouble committing to anything? I can witness that any night at Celebrities or The Pumpjack. There are no lessons here, just a sad, and ultimately lonely, man that moves from one relationship to the next.
In Episode Four (Mimi) our hopes are raised but are just as quickly dashed as it seemed the tables might truly be turned on Anatol and he would get a piece of his own medicine. Unfortunately we were taken only to the point where Anatol fights back and before we know it, Mimi became just as much a victim as the rest of Anatol’s women. It was a real letdown to the end of Act One.
It wasn’t until Episode Seven (Liona) that we finally saw one of Anatol’s women rise up and plot her vengeance against Anatol but by this time we simply didn’t care anymore. And in what should have been an ending leaving the audience believing Anatol will indeed get his comeuppance, we were left more with a maniacal scream that suggested Liona would lose it before she even had an opportunity to seek her revenge.
As with most Panych shows, his long-time partner Ken MacDonald provides another whimsical set – this time consisting of a wall of drawers (240 of them in fact) where Anatol is able to compartmentalize the women in his life. The moveable ladder allowing the actors’ access to the higher drawers allowed for some very fun stage business although on opening night a collective gasp rang out as Max (played by David Marr) was almost thrown from the ladder.
Along with MacDonald’s imaginative set, the other highlight of the show was the costumes for the women characters. Costume Designer, Nancy Bryant, obviously had a great deal of fun in dressing Lines and the hats alone were worth the price of admission.
Loved the acting, loved the stage design, loved the costumes. Too bad about the story.