Canadian-born playwright Vern Thiessen’s adaptation of the W. Somerset Maugham novel Of Human Bondage makes its world premiere at Soulpepper Theatre this month and the production might be unlike anything you have ever seen. It is both eerie and beautiful, in some moments excruciatingly sad and in other moments, downright hilarious. It moves fast without sacrificing the complexity of Maugham’s novel. The scenes and characters shift in and out in such a fluid atmosphere that every moment feels important. Look away for a second and you’re bound to miss something spectacular.
Philip Carey (Gregory Prest) is a crippled painter leaving behind the world of art to become a doctor. Art is a central theme in the play and it intersects each character and each storyline, which connects the entirety of the play together. Carey’s artistic background gives him a unique perspective, not only in regards to the medical landscape, but the entire world around him. He is a fully committed individual, putting everything he has into what it is that occupies his mind at any given moment. When he turns his attention to cafe maid Mildred Rogers (Michelle Monteith), his life begins to spiral out of control as she takes advantage of his all-encompassing desire for her. Mildred, herself, is also quite a tortured soul, and both Prest and Monteith shine in these complex roles.
With such a dense novel to bring to the stage and with an assortment of characters, Thiessen’s adaptation is brilliantly crafted. The set, designed by Lorenzo Savoini, shifts between scenes at a rapid pace, creating what feels like a constantly fluctuating stage. The actors double as stagehands, moving pieces in and out to set up a current scene or prepare for a later one. This fluctuating setting, remarkably, does not overshadow the goings-on of each scene. Both the stage and the actors work in unison in a tremendously choreographed fashion. When Carey needs to point out an old painting of his, there is suddenly an actor, fresh from the wings with a frame in their hands, onstage to help him out. Credit must go to director Albert Schultz (also the long-time artistic director of Soulpepper) for such a dazzling ensemble performance that goes beyond the terrific acting. This is truly a unique show, one that shouldn’t be missed.
Of Human Bondage is extended to May 24th. Tickets range from $29-$89. Visit www.soulpepper.ca or call 416-866-8666 for more information.
photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann
featured in photo: Gregory Prest & Michelle Monteith