Betrayal, forgiveness, art, and freedom are the fibres that make up Richard Sangar’s engaging and puzzling play, Whispering Pines.
The Great Canadian Theatre Company presented its closing performance Nov. 13. In a deliberately puzzling form, it touched on themes of memory, of political idealism, and debated the reality of our human perceptions.
According to Artistic Director Lise Ann Johnson, Sangar is inspired by his time living in West Berlin. The play reflected his interactions with a progressive couple who lived on the east side of the wall.
Directed by Brian Quirt, the production includes a cast of three: Renate, Bruno, and Thomas played by Tracey Ferencz, Paul Rainville and Kris Joseph respectively. Sangar represented himself in the young and enthusiastic Canadian character, Thomas, and his friendship with artists Bruno and Renate.
The play took a certain Canadian perspective as it looked on past oppression from a viewpoint of freedom. Renate told her story of immigration, starting over without forgetting where she come from. Her memories of harsh oppression surrounded by concrete walls contrast the beauty and peace of her new home in Canadian woods near Lake Superior.
These memories provide historical context without clearly outlining the plot in the first act, deliberately leaving the audience in a state of confusion. The second act also relies heavily on flashbacks but the plot seems to unfold better and the audience begins to see the larger picture.
The actors presented the message without the elaborate use of costumes or props. The sparing use of music helped to convey emotion, including one occasion in the first act where Bruno played a classical guitar on stage.
Johnson said this “experimental piece” could be experienced in the way one experiences an abstract painting.
“It’s like going to a contemporary museum,” said Johnson, “and allowing other aspects of the painting, the paint, the colours, the texture, the lines, the symmetry or lack of symmetry. . . to create a different kind of narrative.”
Whispering Pines invited the audience to piece together the puzzle in order to discover personal meaning.
Though the play’s abstract nature caused the play to be difficult to follow at times, Johnson said that the point was that not everyone would walk away with the same interpretation.
“Renate is telling [her story] in layers,” says Johnson, “in a way like a painter puts paint on a canvas.”
In this way the play is conveyed, just like a painting, through the layering of perspectives and repetitive flashbacks in order to convey a message of forgiveness despite betrayal, and of hope amid hurt.
—Photo courtesy of h-e-d