If you were in a capricious mood, you could refer to this charming play as "Amadeus Lite," but it's actually far more subtle and rewarding than that.

If you were in a capricious mood, you could refer to this charming play as “Amadeus Lite,” but it’s actually far more subtle and rewarding than that.

Canadian filmmaker Mieko Ouchi begins with some generally known facts about the final years of the life of composer Antonio Vivaldi, commonly known as “the red priest” because of his ginger-colored hair and beard.

Aware that his financial need often compelled him into odd patronage situations with the nobility, she invented a plot about Vivaldi being hired to teach the wife of a French nobleman how to play the violin in only six weeks.

Through a series of almost filmic encounters we meet the once-proud composer and the tightly reserved young wife. Both have serious emotional needs that the world hasn’t filled, and although each would seem to be the least likely partner for the other, they are gradually drawn together.

Ouchi does not steer us into conventional romance. Far from it. All the longing is left unexpressed, which makes it even more poignant. Each scene unfolds with the sadly beautiful formality of the garden that David Boechler has created as his set.

Director Ron Jenkins’ staging is carefully designed, but never allowed to become too intrusive. The simple elegance of the movement patterns is not unlike Vivaldi’s music, where deceptively rigorous melodic lines allow a world of emotion to exist underneath.

The actors are up to the stylistic challenge of the work. Playwright Ouchi is amazingly controlled as the wife, allowing almost nothing to escape, except through her wildly searching eyes.

Ashley Wright, on the other hand, is a seemingly expansive Vivaldi, full of boorishly drunken merriment. But he, too, has an aching heart that he tries to keep well-hidden.

The final conclusion is touching yet restrained. As Ouchi has Vivaldi say, “It isn’t wise to paint the past in the colors of sentimental love.”

Except for one technical challenge — the actress must be able to play the violin — this script could become popular on the regional circuit and — with two appropriately starry names (Cherry Jones and Philip Seymour Hoffman, for example) — might even succeed handsomely Off Broadway.

The Red Priest (Eight Ways to Say Goodbye)

Tarragon Theater Extra Space; 100 seats; C$32 top

Production

A Tarragon Theater presentation of a play by Mieko Ouchi. Directed by Ron Jenkins.

Creative

Set, David Boechler; costumes, Jen Darbellay; lighting, Michael Kruse. Opened, reviewed March 30, 2004. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN

Cast

The Woman - Mieko Ouchi Antonio Vivaldi - Ashley Wright
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