by Carole Fréchette,
trans. John Murrell
Shadbolt Centre for the Arts, Burnaby
The following is Jerry's review of this production at the Firehall Arts
Centre in 2004.
A middle-aged woman sits alone at an outdoor table in a Brussels
cafe telling us her love stories. About passionate, impulsive Siegfried
who cut a hole in their bedroom ceiling to give her the sky. About
beautiful, crazy Jan who made love to her in a construction pit in
the heart of the city at mid-afternoon. Every so often she'll stop
and look anxiously in her compact mirror, or ask us whether her elbows
look different or her hands or her neck--whether we see the extra
skin that keeps growing and growing, threatening to consume her.
And she tells us about the young man who told her his love stories,
and offered her the secret for saving her skin.
Québécoise playwright Carol Fréchette's Elisa's
Skin is a gem of a play, minimalist in its conception, virtually
actionless. In this remount of Pi Theatre's hugely successful 2003
production, Elisa rises from her chair only twice, and the young
man makes a few entrances and exits. Otherwise we are in the grip
of Elisa's narrative, and Marie Stillin's Elisa is mesmerizing. Her
slim, almost pre-Raphaelite elegance makes the character's phobia
about her aging body especially poignant and moving. Stillin lets
us see so clearly Elisa's terrible fear of disintegration and yet
contains it so beautifully. Only a slightly artificial staccato quality
to her vocal delivery--a quality I don't recall from last year--mars
her bravura performance.
Todd Thomson is also excellent as the young man, essentially reprising
the fantasy role of erotic saviour he recently played as sexy Jesus
in Lucia Frangione's Espresso. I guess if you're going to get type-cast,
you could do a lot worse. Kudos to Del Surjik's sensitive direction
and moody lighting plot, and to playwright John Murrell's fluid English
Though the show reminded me at times of Beckett's Krapp's
Last Tape and Kafka's "Metamorphosis"--high praise in my book--it
has at its heart the lyrical narcissism typical of so much Québécois
theatre. Sometimes I find that style hard to take. The translation
across cultures doesn't always work. But it does this time, due to
a fine script and an exceptional production. Highly recommended.