Tapestry Opera’s Rocking Horse Winner, an opera based on the eponymous D.H. Lawrence story, is a shot in the dark so sublimely long it feels like adrenaline to the heart of Toronto theatre.
The story follows Paul (Asitha Tennekoon), a developmentally challenged young man who has the power to predict horse-race results, and his mother, Ava (Carla Huhtanen), who struggles to love him and copes by maintaining a lavish lifestyle in spite of her considerable debt.
At the behest of his house, which Paul believes he can communicate with, he begins to bet regularly in partnership with a custodian named Bassett (Peter McGillivray) and his uncle Oscar (Keith Klassen), until more money leads to more problems. His method to discover the winners involves riding his rocking horse to where luck is, something his parents don’t have, Ava says, because they can never keep money for very long.
Rocking Horse Winner has a lot going for it. The four actors who play The House — Sean Clark, Aaron Durand, Erica Iris and Elaina Moreau — one-up the original house’s terror factor note for note. Their dim visages behind the curtain singing, “There must be more! There must be more money!” are caged spectres of our consumerist selves.
Camellia Koo’s set design lends itself to seamless transitions and adds a drab, opulent weight to the songs that reminds the audience that joyous and supernatural moments are still grounded in life’s contingencies.
Composer Gareth Williams — of Breath Cycle fame — provides a score that amplifies the cast by harmonizing with their emotions.
Though a supernatural turn from predictable weekend fare, the work is not without its shortcomings. Paul’s mental health is afforded only lip service and money and greed are romanticized into faux pas. The adaptation unnecessarily faithful to the original 1926 story. It’s not a retelling, it’s a period piece. This leaves it up to the audience to relate the show to the present day. A task they are capable of, no doubt, it just calls into question Tapestry’s decision to zhuzh up a dated story with production value rather than daring to tamper with a master’s hand.
Rocking Horse Winner is playing at the Berkeley Street Downstairs Theatre until June 4. For more information, visit canadianstage.com.