Parisa Siddiqui, Contributor
Spanish poet and playwright Federico García Lorca described his acclaimed surrealist play When Five Years Pass as “impossible.” Pulling together fragmented memories and a fantastical cast of characters, the play undulates between fantasy and reality, and is often unclear which one the characters are experiencing. Tuesday Night Café’s production of When Five Years Pass, is indeed as experimental as the intentions of the playwright.
According to director Anna Lytvynova, the play’s nonlinear narrative is part of what compelled her to put it up. “I’m very interested in modernist theatre, which is theatre from the early twentieth century that … strives for abstract aesthetics.” When Five Years Pass was written in 1931 in Spanish, and eventually translated to English by the 1940s. The play has no apparent central narrative and is replete with jumbled perspectives, spirits, and personified animals. Most of the characters have no names. Essentially, the plot goes as such: After waiting five years for his young fiancée (played by Sarah Mitchell) to return from abroad so they could marry, a Young Man (played by Ryan Mernin) discovers that her temperament and desires have changed with time, and she no longer wants him. He desires a child, and that desire leads him to his erstwhile Secretary (also played by Mitchell), who once loved him.
Lytvynova, who is in her final year of the honours theatre program at McGill, took the abstraction up a level by making her own stylistic choices. She decided to have each of the seven actors, with the exception of lead actor Mernin, play more than one role. “That was to expand on [the question of] ‘what does a body signify?’ If you put a body on stage, what does that do for the audience? We played around with identity being put onto a body rather than a body signifying identity,” she said.
Located in the lower floor of Morrice Hall, the performance area and the audience seating are close together and small, providing a degree of intimacy. The production mostly benefitted from the enclosure of the space. The actors did not have to project as much as they would have had to on a larger stage, so subtlety in delivery and facial expressiveness still registered. The tiny stage was sparsely furnished, but the actors made the most of the space.
Of course, this sort of intimacy also has its downfalls. The character of the Young Man is extremely intense when it comes to the subject of his first love, a teenage girl. His feelings for her manifest themselves in the form of deep anger and sadness when his love for her is criticized and ultimately when she decides to leave him. This meant that Mernin often shouted his lines to convey the forcefulness of his emotions, which was almost overwhelming at times, as he was merely feet away from the audience.
Audience members would do well to read the play or at least a summary of it before attending, as it is challenging to follow. Characters enter the stage for the first time with no introduction; the first scene of the first act opens in media res, amid a heated discussion between the Young Man and the more staid Old Man (played by David Fornari). Actors flit on and offstage, shifting between characters frequently. The play is densely packed with dialogue that is dated, lyrical, and bizarre. A friend of the Young Man (played by Yevgen Kravchenko) describes a girlfriend’s figure as “so slender that you’d need a tiny silver axe to dissect her.”
Time, perspective, and memory bleed into one another, and because of the fluidity of the timeline, the characters’ mental states shift at the drop of a hat. One of actress Alice Hinchliffe’s characters, a flamboyant woman described as “Second Friend” in the playbill, goes from conversing with the Young Man to crying out and collapsing onto the floor after describing how she saw a woman turn into a drop of water before her eyes as an infant in a matter of seconds, quietly singing to herself for the remainder of the scene. That scene is a microcosm of the play as a whole ㅡ confusing and dreamlike. The TNC production is unconventional, simply put, shrouded somewhat by the fragmented and exploratory haze of student theatre, but it delivers as an experience of something outside of the tried-and-true stage staples of many other McGill productions.
When Five Years Pass will be playing at Morrice Hall from February 22nd to 25th at 8pm. Tickets are $6 for students and $10 for general admission.