Magnus Theatre Of Humane Bondage
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THUNDER BAY, ON -- March 10, 2017 (LSN) Of Human Bondage, Magnus Theatre’s latest production, holds something for everybody. Steamy romance, philosophical commentary, complex human dynamics and nineteenth century history weave their way into this vivid performance. The production’s portrayal of the best and worst of human nature is capable of breaking down the viewer’s faith in humanity and, just as steadily, building it back up again.
Written by Vern Thiessen and directed by Thom Currie, Of Human Bondage is based on W. Somerset Maugham’s novel of the same name. It transports the viewer back to nineteenth England, where Philip Carey is learning medicine. Around his hospital peers, he presents as cautious and practical in nature. We are quick to learn that Philip is in fact an artist at heart, wistfully reminiscing with artist friends about his painting days in Paris. Perhaps it is no accident that Philip becomes obsessed with Mildred, a painfully self-absorbed tea shop waitress, who appeals to his eye for beauty. Mildred’s presence threatens to alter the course of Philip’s entire life.
Ken James Steward delivers a brilliant performance as Philip Carey. He embodies the character with impeccable precision, down to subtle undertones of body language. In a play which takes character development to the next level, Philip just might be the most intricate and complex. He is determined, practical, and socially awkward. As the story continues, he is also surprisingly impulsive and obsessive. It’s difficult not to feel his pain and frustration as his relationship with Mildred unfolds.
Mildred, played by Gabriella Colavecchio, relies on pity, not just Philip’s, but that of the audience. Her rapid shifts in mood and temperament are hard to follow at first, until they are revealed as deliberate subtleties of her own manipulative character. In a quest for money and glamour, she takes full advantage of Philip’s feelings for her.
Although the play revolves around Philip and Mildred, a wide cast of secondary characters serve to put Philip’s experiences into perspective. Ranging from Cronshaw, an absinth-loving poet, to Norah, a spunky and generous penny novelist, these appealing and believable characters add colour and variety. Members of the cast are quick to transform themselves from one character to another, complete with believable accents. The level of experience and professionalism of the director and cast is clearly evident in this nearly flawless performance.
The simplicity of the set allows the complexity of each character to shine. Sparse and understated furniture is efficiently transitioned from scene to scene, allowing the focus to remain on the unfolding human drama. Well-timed lighting and thoughtful staging carries the viewer’s focus from one scene to the next. Unexpected and refreshing musical interludes punctuate the performance. In one particularly poignant scene, a lone actor – illuminated in the background, sings a love song, providing sharp contrast to the silent action in the foreground.
Playwright Vern Thiessen’s talent lies in his attention to detail and ability to develop and resolve multiple themes and subplots. Details and themes, even minor ones, repeat themselves faithfully, revealing an artfully designed script. The end of the production leaves the viewer feeling satisfied, as details resurface and then resolve.
Of Human Bondage promises to be a memorable night out a Magnus Theatre. In the end, through Philip’s story, we walk away with a deeper message about what it means to be human.
Arts and Entertainment Reporter