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by Nick Bantock
Arts Club Theatre Company
Granville Island Stage
October 5-November 4
604.280.3311 or 604.687.1644

In the program for Griffin & Sabine, Arts Club dramaturg Rachel Ditor describes the challenges she and Bowen Island author Nick Bantock faced in adapting his six novels for the stage. The lushly illustrated books, made up of long-distance correspondences among four characters, share their story with the reader through exotically hand-painted postcards printed on the page, and handwritten letters that you remove from their customized envelopes and unfold to read. The intertwined love stories of Griffin and Sabine, Isabella and Matthew are almost secondary to the tactile intimacy of handling the books, stroking their glossy pages, wondering over the intricate, hauntingly surreal pictures.

Bantock, Ditor and director James Fagan Tait meet the challenges of translating one medium to another with a good deal of success. The characters move formally around Bryan Pollock’s minimalist set, speaking their letters aloud, avoiding physical contact. The books’ beautiful illustrations are recreated in Tim Matheson’s video projections. Marsha Sibthorpe’s moody lighting and the evocative onstage music of Joelysa Pankanea (vibraphone and hand drums) and Mark Haney (double bass) conjure a mystical atmosphere

But the symphonic visual/sonic effects and strong acting struggle against a repetitious structure (how many times can we hear people say they love each other?), characters who feel increasingly bloodless, and a plot that drifts into tedious mystical and alchemical obscurity.

Griffin and Sabine’s initial relationship is fascinating. He (Colin Legge) is a London-based illustrator of arty postcards. She (Lois Anderson) contacts him from her home on a South Pacific island, knowing things about him she can’t possibly know. As they exchange cards and letters, their interest in one another becomes obsession, then love. When he tries to go to her island, she comes to London. He wonders if she’s just a figment of his imagination.

The plot thickens when sinister journalist Frolatti (Marco Soriano) begins harassing Sabine and another couple: Matthew (Andrew McNee), an archeologist on a dig in Alexandria, and his Parisian girlfriend Isabella (Megan Leitch).

All five become connected as Matthew unearths a fabulous artifact that seems to hold the secret to certain ancient alchemical mysteries accessed by Isabella through her dreams, possessed somehow by Sabine through her psychic sensitivities, and sought by “dark angel” Frolatti. Griffin has something to do with it too, as well as a mysterious cat, a lion and a Samurai warrior.

All the actors are fine, especially Legge. But their uniformly flat, unemotional delivery, stylized movement, absence of physical contact, and formal language that sometimes sounds translated combine to make the characters feel more like works of art than real people.

This isn’t realism so don’t expect it. But is the beauty enough?

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Saturday, October 14, 2006 12:19 PM
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