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by Carole Fréchette,
trans. John Murrell
Pi Theatre
Shadbolt Centre for the Arts, Burnaby
April 27-29

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 translation.

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.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Thursday, April 20, 2006 2:59 PM
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