Off Broadway

Soulpepper’s Of Human Bondage Will Enrapture You

Soulpepper’s Of Human Bondage Will Enrapture You
Of Human Bondage, Michelle Monteith, Gregory Prest

Michelle Monteith, Gregory Prest

There are times that magic happens in theatre. The Canadian company Soulpepper’s version of W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, adapted by Vern Thiessen, now playing at the Signature Theatre, is one of them. Brilliantly directed by Albert Schultz, you will spend two and a half hours wondering why Philip Carey (Gregory Prest), is so obsessed with Mildred (Michelle Monteith), who basically has no redeeming qualities; and then the power of human kindness and compassion hits you and brings home the fabric of human fragility.

Maugham’s novel is epic, with over 700-pages. Here we, start about 1/3 of the way in as Philip (Mr. Prest), an orphaned, club footed artist turned doctor, struggles to find balance in his life. We first meet Philip in London, as he shows promise as a medical student under the tutelage of Dr. Tyrell (Oliver Dennis). His chums at school are ladies’ man Griffiths (Jeff Lillico) and the stalwart Dunsford (Paolo Santalucia), who has an infatuation with a teashop waitress, MIldred (Ms. Monteith). Philip yearns for his bohemian life in Paris as an artist, especially when his pals Cronshaw (Stuart Hughes) and Lawson (Mr. Dennis) reunite in London. When Philip goes to the teashop to help Dunsford win the heart of Mildred, he finds his life turned inside out by his self-destructive lust for her. She is uncultured, manipulative and abusive to Philip. She almost destroys his career as a doctor when she puts him into emotional and financial ruin. When she leaves him for another, Philip meets the kind, intelligent and generously loving divorcée Norah (Sarah Wilson). However, when Mildred returns, pregnant and unwed, he dumps Nora and takes back Mildred. Mildred then meets his classmate Griffiths and leaves with him as Philip gives her money to do so. At this point it is hard to have any sympathy for Philip and you begin think the title should be “Diary of an Idiotic Man.”

In the second act, Philip loses everything, but is redeemed and saved by the kindness of strangers. A Persian rug that Cronshaw gives him tells him the meaning of life in the end.

Of Human Bondage, Oliver Dennis, Stuart Hughes, Gregory Prest

Stuart Hughes, Gregory Prest, Oliver Dennis

Thiessen’s adaptation allows those of us who have read the novel, to appreciate its depth and beauty. Schultz’s staging is relentlessly inventive, starting with a bass lit from the inside, as the actors bring their bows to create the surgery on a man, which also highlights Philip’s longing, as live actors stand behind picture frames as his paintings. One of my favorite images was when Philip buys a flower, scarf and necklace just as Mildred accepts the items on the other side of the stage. The whole show is a total sensory experience, with inspired set and lighting by Lorenzo Savoini, hauntingly beautiful music (Composer?) and verbal effects by Mike Ross, that will blow you away.

The 12-member acting company doubles and triples up on roles. Oliver Dennis, Stuart Hughes, John Jarvis, Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster all found ways to move, layer and evoke their characters, as Mr. Prest held the fabric together.

This show deserves a longer run; but sadly, it is only here until the end of this month. If you love theatre, and have fond memories of Nicholas Nickleby on Broadway, you must see this amazing production.

Of Human Bondage: Soulpepper at Signature Theatre: July 5 at 7pm, 6 at 7pm, 8 at 7:30pm, 9 at 2pm, 12 at 7pm, 14 at 7pm, 15 at 7:30pm, 19 at 2pm, 21 at 7:30pm, 22 at 2pm, 23 at 7pm and 26 at 2pm

Off Broadway

Suzanna, co-owns and publishes the newspaper Times Square Chronicles or T2C. At one point a working actress, she has performed in numerous productions in film, TV, cabaret, opera and theatre. She has performed at The New Orleans Jazz festival, The United Nations and Carnegie Hall. She has a screenplay and a TV show in the works, which she developed with her mentor and friend the late Arthur Herzog. She is a proud member of the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle and was a nominator. Email: suzanna@t2conline.com

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