Soulpepper’s Delicate Balancing Act Keeps It All Up In The Air

Last week Soulpepper opened its doors for the first time at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts since last month’s revelations about former artistic director Albert Schultz facing a multimillion-dollar lawsuit over alleged sexual harassment.

Walking into the theatre there was much anticipation as to what the vibe was going to be as the company’s other main production which was set to open the same week, Amadeus, was cancelled in light of the allegations. Most likely because its theme about oversexed artists and manipulative teachers hit a little too close to home and now would be completely inappropriate for the company and artists to take on.

Once inside the doors to the theatre it was evident restoration is possible and a freshness was in the air as an enthusiastic completely packed house proved that in the wake of scandal people and most definitely art come together to create healing and in this case, magic on stage.

A Delicate Balance could not have been a more perfect production, as the play is about family, and the careful calibrations required to keep it all from falling apart.

In all relationships there is a balance that must be carefully maintained to avoid total collapse. In this case a daughter returns home with tail between her legs after her fourth divorce while at the same time friends of the couple move in. Albee paints a vivid picture of how easily life can be uprooted when not paying attention to each other and the details. The show is totally identifiable to all with its humorous and sarcastic nature. Relatable themes range from husband and wife strife, father/mother/daughter stresses, adult children feeling lost and helpless, gay romantic interests, what it means to be a woman, a man, sibling rivalry and so on. Literally something for everyone.

The audience, a fly on the wall, for what feels like the juiciest of family parties. Nonstop and full of gossip. The stage set, designed by Astrid Janson, is lush and gorgeous. Audience members are sitting on either side of the actors, seeing them from all angles as they interact in the family living room. Perfectly and delicately decorated, everything has its place – similarly to the people in our lives.

Two of my favourite set details are the furniture items showing plastic arms or legs. This seems to emphasize the transparency of the characters as the play unfolded and we got to know them more intimately. Also, the massive carpet that ran the length of the stage was annoyingly askew resting against and even leading up onto the wall. Sounds strange and a bit silly, perhaps even an oversight. It was a topic of conversation among the audience, everyone wanting to go over and fix it. But on further reflection on the walk home, I couldn’t help but feel it was emphasizing the delicate way we present ourselves to the world and our own families – everything just so, in a way so not to be found out. It seemed like an intentional imperfection, highlighting what we all try to cover up in our own families and our own personalities.

Soulpepper opened its doors after a pivotal moment in its history. Putting on a play that couldn’t be better suited for the moment. Much like a family in crisis, they’ve come together to find their balance and restore what binds them together.

By Melissa Dennie

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