Montreal’s Freestanding Room sits as an intimate and cozy venue two floors above the trendy bar Darling along Saint-Laurent. Although I was expecting something small, this only being new and up-and-coming Tantalus Theatre’s second production, I was surprised to enter the space and realize I was behind the action. Walking from the backstage, through the set, and into the audience on the other side was – though most likely simply a by-product of the space – a lovely way to enter the world of the play.
And what a world it was.
Amuse Me is Tantalus’s second show directed by Rahul Gandhi after the inaugural Adoration at Studio Porte Bleue last March (read our review of the production remounted at the MainLine Theatre as part of the 2017 St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe festival here and our first interview with the creatives here). Written by Laurent McCuaig-Pitre, who here also plays the titular John Doe, the story follows his attempts to harness the Muse of creativity in the effort of producing new poems, plays, and works of art. While the theme is not a novel one in literature, the script raises relevant questions on the subject matter as the Muse begins to gain a sense of autonomy from her conjurer.
The microcosm herein created for Amuse Me is exquisitely lived-in. The action occurs in Doe’s apartment, an effective combination of efficient messiness (there’s never an orange too far out of sight). The designers (set and costume by Thalia Stefaniuk, with Kate Babin handling the lighting and Kevin Demmerle on sound) have done a wonderful job of crafting an atmosphere that never strays from its purpose. Lighting and sound cues are tight and incredibly effectual, lending authority to some of the play’s more stylized segments, while the costumes are similarly successful in portraying character; there’s a lovely sense of detail in that each incarnation of the Muse becomes a little more playful in how they dress themselves. Kudos to the design team for the unified vision.
McCuaig-Pitre, in his role as the deadbeat writer Doe, plays into the everyman quality of the namesake. He bounces off of the three Muses well, injecting a nice dosage of sensitivity to the character’s insecurities, while also infusing the dynamic between he and the Muses with just the right amount of condescension in order to get the plot moving forward.
Each of the Muses brings something new to the writing table. Éléonore Lamothe, as the first incarnation, beautifully captures the transition from nothingness to a childlike sense of wonder as she is introduced to the physical realm, while also maintaining a strong presence. The second incarnation, played by Sophia Metcalf, is a representation of a growing fascination and inherent fear of the world. She plays the Muse as someone who has come into her own and who is confident of her place in the sphere; the performance is incredibly alive and captivating, which makes it that much more frustrating and sad to see the third Muse, played by Oliver Price, be oppressed by John Doe under the guise of safekeeping. Price lives in the trauma of this character, doesn’t overplay it, and is heartbreakingly hard to watch in his displayed sensitivity.
As the poignant and powerful narrative further progresses, it becomes even increasingly more difficult to watch – for the best of reasons. In that the Muse is “born” with no knowledge of the world, in a white dress, and must effectively be raised by John Doe, an interesting dynamic emerges wherein a man teaches a woman about the ways of the universe, says and believes that he’s protecting her, but perversely only uses her as a catalyst for his art. It’s a troubling association that the play raises, and while I think the knowledge of it is present in parts of the show, I think it could perhaps have been made more apparent. While the Muses do get to reassert their position in the world (in some rather remarkable, stylized segments), one wonders if their stature – as women – could have been a bit more fleshed out in the first place.
While I wasn’t personally able to see Tantalus’ previous show, Amuse Me seems to me a confident beginning from a new independent theatre company. Ably conceived and enacted, the show balances a slew of rotating ideas and warmly presents them in the Freestanding Room for audiences to enjoy. With a team that works together this well, one is eager to see what the future holds for the Montreal company.
Support promising indie theatre – the show runs until December 17th.
Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Contributor Andrew Sawyer
Tantalus Theatre presents Amuse Me
When: December 7th to 17th, 2017
Where: FreeStanding Room, 4324 Boulevard Saint-Laurent, #300
Admission: $12 – $15
Box Office: www.brownpapertickets.com