'The Red Priest' (Eight Ways to Say Goodbye)
Guild Festival Theatre at the Guild Park, Scarborough
A smartly directed production of two distinctly unique individuals from different social standings who movingly connect through music, art, and words. A wonderful musical treat at the end finely provides the proverbial nightcap. Enchanting to watch on a gorgeous opening night summer evening.
Fun fact I did not know. I had to look up the meaning of ‘the red priest’ and its connection to the Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi. He had a crop of red hair inherited from his father.
Ah, the things we can still learn in retirement.
Mieko Ouchi’s ‘The Red Priest’ (Eight Ways To Say Goodbye) is the story of a fictional relationship between Vivaldi (David Whiteley) and the wife of one of the most powerful noblemen of the French court simply known as The Woman (Sierra Haynes). Her husband has wagered the King of France that Vivaldi can teach the countess to play the violin in six weeks at which time she will then play for the French court.
This boorish behaviour by the Woman’s husband to treat her in such a cavalier manner remained unseemly to me, but it’s also the era when everyone had secret lovers while married, and no one batted an eye at this reprehensible behaviour either.
Period piece settings always fascinate me and I’m curious to see how a theatre company uses and dresses the space appropriately. I’ll acknowledge Production Designer Wasifa Noshin’s astute work here in creating simple but elegant touches that allowed me to fill in my mind the grandiosity of the French drawing rooms in this outdoor Greek theatre setting. A nice touch was the lighting of the flames over the portcullis entrance centre stage. They didn’t stay lit for too long for the beautiful summer breeze, but no quibble there for me. Costume designs are splendid re-creations of the period.
Helen Juvonen’s clear-sighted direction made me care about these two individuals from their appropriately different social strata. What fascinated me about Mieko Ouchi’s script is listening to the highly detailed monologues Whiteley and Haynes deliver to the audience as we see the world from their points of view.
It does take time to warm up to Vivaldi and the Woman, and that’s a good thing. David Whiteley becomes a fastidious Antonio Vivaldi who recognizes, at times, an improbable task he has at hand to teach the haughty unfocused countess who initially wants events to unfold the way she desires them.
While maintaining that air of superiority of social class structure in Vivaldi’s presence, Sierra Haynes makes an interesting choice in developing the Woman’s character. Haynes affirms a ‘street smart’ sense about the Woman in some of her monologues to us while maintaining her proper place within the French court. She knows she is played by her husband over this wager with the King. To maintain her dignity about learning to play the violin in an unheard-of time allotment over which she ultimately has no control, the Woman does what she can do to maintain control. She goes toe to toe with a man who will either make her look foolish in front of others or make her the envy of others through her musical talents. I don’t believe it’s spoiling the plot to say the latter wins out.
One moment that spoke volumes to me was the silent look Vivaldi and the Woman gave to each other during a shared dance. It was that compassionate and caring moment between two individuals who get what the other person is all about. It’s that moment where two individuals allow each other to look into their eyes and their souls of who they are despite the call of fame, fortune or societal duty, as Juvonen stated in her Director’s Note of the programme.
Those moments where actors just inherently connect with each other make live performance the extraordinary craft it is.
Both Whiteley and Haynes are extraordinary musicians as well, and what a bonus it is they play the violin and fiddle. I put my book down at the end where I was making notes and just listened and watched these gifted artists share their talents with us. What a wonderful way to cap off the evening.
Where I do feel bad for the company and through no fault of their own is the noise spilling out from the nearby clubhouse on the grounds. On this opening night, a wedding celebration was in full swing with loud tunes blaring for what seemed an eternity. I can’t even begin to imagine the frustration Sound Designer Sean Meldrum experienced as he did his utmost to adjust the levels of the underscoring Vivaldi music when Whiteley and Haynes began speaking. The noise level did abate about fifteen minutes into the performance, but c’mon. It has been an empty two years without live theatre and GFT gives us a welcome back gift of a wonderful show and experience we’ve been sorely missing. Can something be done in future to ensure it’s a win/win situation for all?
Final Comments: I’ve heard the judges on ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ and ‘America’s Got Talent’ say, “It’s a yes from me.”
“It’s a yes from me” to see ‘The Red Priest’ (Eight Ways to Say Goodbye).
Running time is approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.
The production runs to August 7 on the grounds of Guild Park, 201 Guildwood Parkway, Scarborough. For further information on dates and times, visit www.guildfestivaltheatre.ca.
THE RED PRIEST (Eight Ways To Say Goodbye) by Mieko Ouchi
Presented by Guild Festival Theatre.
Director: Helen Juvonen
Stage Manager: Tara Mohan
Production Designer: Wasifa Noshin
Sound Designer: Sean Meldrum
Assistant Director: Alecia Pagnotta
Performers: Sierra Haynes, David Whiteley