THUNDER BAY ON --- February 2, 2012 ---Olivia Olsen’s performance of the 23 characters in Magnus Theatre’s current production of the “Syringa Tree” is an epic feat! She is telling a story of two families, one black the other white living together on a farm in South Africa. The story is told primarily through the six year old eyes of Elizabeth Grace.
For Olivia Olsen this play is a way for her to return to her native country South Africa. As I watched the play unfold she seems to gain strength from the play. We hear this story from one who has been there. I was amazed at how well she told the story, switching from one character to another. She has the mental stamina to keep all the characters separate (with the appropriate accents as well) and at the same time keep the story flowing.
This production requires an actress with physical stamina as well. A hyper-active six-year old can be distressingly difficult to play since they are never still. Lastly as someone who used to do a lot of singing from the stage I have to comment on her ability to preserve her voice, speaking constantly for the full duration of the play night after night. Like the settlers on the land in South Africa you have to be tough to play this part.
This is a story that needs to be told in this country. I was trying to think about Canadian parallels to Apartheid in South Africa. The closest thing that we may have experienced would be the internment camps during the second war and the enforced entrance to residential schools for first nation peoples. Yet these two examples are paled by the evil that was Apartheid. We simply have no Canadian equivalent in the Canadian experience.
While this is a one actress production, it is not a one person play. Magnus Theatre is fully professional and this production full of the benefits of a great live theatre. I am talking about the staging and lighting. Simple, well lit, purposeful, the staging and lighting themselves are an allegory for the play itself. The effect of the lighting on the never changing set can also be said to represent the two great races of South Africa one on the right and the other on the left and a shield dividing the two in the centre. The light alone could describe the change in the tensions between the various groups represented in this play. Kudos to Doug Robinson for set design and Travis Hatt for his creative use of light.
From time to time I think it is a good idea to attend a serious play. For me it describes a form of humanity good or bad that we have not experienced in this country. It is a story of love and friendship over four generations and the division of institutionalized racism. If you are looking for a good story then this is a good play for you. If you are hard of hearing then I recommend a fresh set of batteries for your hearing devices otherwise it will be difficult to separate the characters in this story. It takes a bit of attention not to get lost in the delivery of this play, but as the play progressed I became used to the South African accent and became enveloped in the story being told. A worthwhile experience!
Olivia Olsen is an Actress with international credits. Her presentation on Magnus Theatre’s stage does her profession credit and speaks volumes about the Theatre’s ability to bring first rate talent to Thunder Bay.
Pamela Gien’s “Syringa Tree” will play at Magnus from January 26th through to Saturday February 11, 2012. Tickets range in price from $14.50 to $39.00. Call the Box Office at 807-345-5552 for your tickets and more information.