C2C is opening their fourth season with a group of one-act plays about liking art a little too much. Jonathan Adams took a careful look.
The Stendhal Syndrome is a condition supposed to affect certain people in which great art (paintings of the Italian Renaissance, for example, or music of the Romantic period) produces an intense physical reaction – generally dizziness, hallucinations, fainting – but rumoured to extend as far as spontaneous orgasm (although that sounds more like a talent). The great French novelist for whom the syndrome is named recorded such a reaction on his first visit to Florence, that most beauty-saturated of cities.
The Stendhal Syndrome is also the title of a pairing of one-act plays by the American playwright Terrence McNally that deal with the theme of how we respond to great art. St. John’s own C2C Theatre will be mounting these plays (“Full Frontal Nudity” and “Prelude & Liebestod”) at the LSPU Hall for a run of five performances beginning next Wednesday, November 8th.
Under the supervision of Artistic Director Charlie Tomlinson and Associates Brad Hodder and Dave Sullivan, C2C has committed itself to presenting local productions of the works of contemporary American and Canadian playwrights such as Neil Labute, David Mamet, and Dave Carley.
“We look for good plays, good stories,” says Hodder, who is also directing The Stendhal Syndrome. “We do very minimalist-driven stuff – partly because we have no money – so we’re always looking for something that’s got a good text that actors can really hold on to.”
In “Full Frontal Nudity,” the first half of The Stendhal Syndrome, an Italian tour guide (Petrina Bromley) ushers a group of American tourists into the Accademia Gallery in Florence to take in the splendor of Michelangelo’s David. The tourists’ reactions range from ecstatic to philistine. The cultured Hector (Chuck Herriott) stands in awe of the statue, whereas Leo (Phil Churchill) is interested primarily in the statue’s genitals, and a vacuous blonde named Lana (Sandy Gow) asks inane questions like “How old was David when he posed for Michelangelo?”
The second play, “Prelude & Liebstod,” is set on a concert stage as a vain conductor (Neil Butler) leads an orchestra through two sections of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde. The conductor thrusts violently through the gorgeous swelling of the music, and conducts the pieces in what can only be called, politely, a “highly visceral” manner. The motions force him to recall a series of erotic memories; meanwhile, the concertmaster (Herriott) thinks the conductor an “asshole,” the soprano (Gow) is busy fretting over a dozen insecurities, and the conductor’s wife (Bromley) is suspicious of a familiar young man (Churchill) in the audience who gazes fawningly at the conductor, praying that he will notice him.
Beyond merely providing substantive, quality productions, the chief aim of C2C is to provoke.
“There’s no quarter-chicken dinner with our theatre,” says Hodder. “We want an audience to get angry with us sometimes. We want to generate discussion … We’re very process-driven; we’re committed to the idea of engaging in a process, through our rehearsals as well as through audience development.”
The Stendhal Syndrome opens Wednesday night at 8:00pm at the LSPU Hall. Tickets are $13 (regular) and $10 (student) +$1 for the LSPU Hall reconstruction fund. There will be a pay-what-you-can matinee on Sunday at 2pm.