Emilia Di Luca
At Tarragon Theatre, the English language premiere of Flesh and Other Fragments of Love, directed by Richard Rose, leaves its audience fragmented from its characters—the flesh.
The poetic play, written by Évelyne de la Chenelière and translated by Linda Gaboriau, springs from Une vie pour deux (A Life for Two), Marie Cardinal’s novel. Flesh and Other Fragments explores the deteriorating marriage of Pierre (Karyn McCallum’s) and Simone (Maria del Mar)—literally—alongside the deteriorating corpse of Mary (Nicole Underhay). The troubled couple stumbles across the drowned Mary while vacationing in Ireland.
Slowly, Pierre and Simone breathe life into Mary as they imagine her triumphs, struggles, and intimacies. Slowly, Underhay awakens as Mary, moving her limbs with the stiffness of the dead. Eventually, she details the couple’s life as much as they do hers.
The script’s embellished language hits a chord, but the characterization misses some key notes. The characters are not relatable. I was more inclined to sympathize with the dead Mary, but perhaps the lifeless living characters were intentional. Regardless, the lack of humanity from the couple (to no fault of Williams and del Mar) elevates the remarkable imagery.
Set and costume designer Karyn McCallum’s cyclorama presents the audience with a blend of colours hinting at Ireland’s landscape. Dead centre, Mary lies on a mound of sand, her back to the audience. Ophelia-style garb wraps her body and suspense builds among spectators until Mary flops over to face the audience.
More startling than her hollowed eyes: Mary’s uncomfortably twisted joints, staggering gait, and sinister cock of the neck. Such a performance fools the audience into thinking a puppeteer pulls the strings attached to Mary’s limbs, but the credit is all Underhay’s.
Furthermore, the couple’s combative nature polarizes Pierre and Simone on stage. Rose’s blocking echoes the story’s circular plot structure and vivid text; in one instance, Pierre and Simone circle Mary like gulls that hover her flesh vying for a piece. The sight is too uncomfortable to watch, but too hypnotizing to turn away.
Unfortunately, the play’s words also trance the spectators, forcing them to hear the characters, not feel for the characters. At 75 minutes, Flesh and Other Fragments is not long, but the words de la Chenelière uses certainly are. Soon, the characters are just vessels for text.
While the weak character-spectator relationship does not detract from the imagery, Rose’s production could benefit from tension between the script’s depth and the depth of the characters. Without sympathy, Pierre, Simone, and Mary are just flesh hollowed out, or is that the point?
See Flesh and Other Fragments of Love until February 16th at Tarragon Theatre. Tickets are available by phone at 416-531-1827 or online at http://tarragontheatre.com.
photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann
Featured in the photo: Nicole Underhay, Maria del Mar