by Yanik Comeau (Comunik Média / ZoneCulture)
I’ve been a fan of Infinithéâtre for a few years now, following their every move and revelling in each of their new productions and projects (Fight On!, Kafka’s Ape, Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Conversion, King of Canada) so I was so looking forward to checking out Michaela Di Cesare’s Extra/Beautiful/U, winner of the Write-On-Q playwriting contest in 2017. I was also a fan of Michaela Di Cesare the actress whom I’ve seen in a few productions around Montreal, notably in Oren Safdie’s Gratitude at the MainLine. So my expectations might have been too high but my disappointment put me in such an uncomfortable position that I – consciously or unconsciously – waited for Extra/Beautiful/U’s Centaur run to be over before I wrote my review.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of great stuff happening in Infinithéâtre’s production of this world premiere. But it’s rarely in the script. Although the subject matter (beauty and our obsession with it, especially in these times of influencers and other superficial addictions) is pertinent and fascinating, the playwright loses herself in conjecture while trying to tackle the subject (and many others including mental health, genetically-related abortion, medical or esthetical reconstruction surgery, single parenting, performance anxiety, gender reassignment, the invasion of privacy by social media…) from every angle and through every character’s eyes which turns the play into a sad mess. Generally cut into short scenes, the script looks more like it should have been filmed than staged. Fortunately, Di Cesare gives us some savory dialogue but even there, she often falls victim to clichés, serving up an Italian mamma that even Steve Galluccio would roll his eyes at. We are not in the 1990s anymore.
Unfortunately, Caitlin Murphy’s direction doesn’t help much. The numerous and long scene transitions, set to weird music that annoys and sounds like AI-created royalty-free music poached from the Internet, quickly become annoying. Although I had much appreciated Murphy’s flair and how she had directed her actors in Small Mouth Sounds at the Segal a few years ago, here the cast seems to have been led astray. Sean Ryan, Toni Elwand and Madeline Scovil (although Scovil needs to do some serious peddling to not make us hate her horribly selfish, superficial and self-centered character) do well enough but Cara Rebecca gets caught up in a strange accent, trying to sound Italian, that distracts from the most interesting and complex character in the piece. As for Stephanie Torriani, although we certainly applaud the choice to hire an “authentic” Down’s Syndrome actress, her elocution and diction often distract as well.
Bruno-Pierre Houle’s minimalistic set works well and helps to smartly integrate Charlotte Baker’s video work.
I look forward to forgetting about this production and getting back to being a fan of Infinithéâtre and all the show’s artisans and artists.
Extra/Beautiful/U by Michaela Di Cesare Directed by Caitlin Murphy Dramaturgy: Caitlin Murphy Starring Toni Ellwand, Cara Rebecca, Sean Ryan, Madeline Scovil, Stephanie Torriani Stage Manager: Elyse Quesnel Apprentice Stage Manager: Corey Weiser Set Designer: Bruno-Pierre Houle Costume Designer: Sabrina Miller Assistant Costume Designer: George Michel Fanfan Video Designer: Charlotte Baker Lighting Designer: Amber Hood Sound Designer: Julian Smith Composer: Florent Ghys Assistant Technical Director: Georgia Holland An Infinithéâtre production From November 29th to December 9th, 2023 (duration: 1h40 no intermission) Centaur Theatre, 453, rue Saint-François-Xavier, Vieux-Montréal Reservations: 514-288-3161 Information: https://centaurtheatre.com/shows/extra-beautiful-u/ Photos: Maxime Côté