BY PAUL GESSELL
The very stylized form of theatre known as commedia dell’arte is an acquired taste. And, heretofore, I had not acquired a taste for costumed, masked actors preening and strutting on stage like it was the 16th century. But if all commedia dell’arte was like the new Odyssey Theatre production of The Financier, I could become an addict.
The Financier is the best thing I have ever seen performed by Odyssey in its 28 years as Ottawa’s prime outdoor theatre troupe. The set and costumes by James Lavoie are dazzling. The perfectly timed physical comedy, including some wacky dance numbers, is hilarious, thanks to “baroque choreographer” Marie-Nathalie Lacoursiere. The madcap storyline is totally ridiculous. (And that’s a compliment, by the way.)
Laurie Steven, the director of the play and the founder of Odyssey, surely deserves much of the credit for this winner. Of course, it helped that Steven had a great cast, notably Alanna Bale, who played the dual roles of chambermaids Marine and Lisette. Bale stole every scene in which she appeared. Her two roles demanded exaggerated gestures and overly dramatic delivery of dialogue and Bale was so polished that she often left her fellow actors in the dust.
The plot is a comedy of manners by Alain-Rene Lesage and first performed, in French, in Paris in 1709. Fans of Moliere’s Tartuffe will undoubtedly love The Financier or, as it was called in French, Turcaret.
At the centre of the story is The Baroness, played by Chandel Gambles. The Baroness is poor, but beautiful — and an outrageous flirt. One minute she is cozying up to the rich, ugly financier, M. Turcaret (Andy Massingham), and the next moment all her attentions are lavished upon the handsome impoverished The Knight (Atilla Clemann).
All players, including the servants, are greedy schemers, trying to determine the easiest way to fleece M. Turcaret. A diamond ring, a love letter, an IOU, and other props are constantly appearing and disappearing and being tossed from one character to another like hot potatoes. And then a long-lost wife appears and the plot takes off like a rocket into outer space.
In the laugh-a-minute second act, The Financier becomes a total farce. The set is demolished. Actors remove their masks and rip off their costumes. They suddenly look very contemporary. The greedy schemers, they seem to say, are still among us.
The Financier continues outdoors at Strathcona Park in Sandy Hill until Aug. 24. Performances takes place Tuesdays through Sundays at 8 p.m. Tickets from $24. Pay-what-you-can on matinee weekends, which start at 3 p.m. Wise members of the audience bring their own lawn chairs or at least a cushion for the hard wooden bleachers. And arm yourself with insect repellent against the mosquitoes.