World of Wonders

TORONTO--Playwright Elliot Hayes has accomplished the formidable task of tailoring Robertson Davies' theme-packed novel into a two-act play with varied degrees of success. The compelling story of a magician's true beginnings unfolds amid a flurry of underlying themes. The account is passionately told by a solid cast of performers, but there were times when an abundance of activity onstage added more confusion than substance.

With:
Magnus Eisengrim ... Nicholas Pennell Roland Ingestree ... Douglas Chamberlain Dunstan Ramsay ... Leon Pownall Liesl Vitzliputzli ... Pat Galloway "Boy" Staunton ... Peter Donaldson Young Staunton ... Todd Luey Young Ramsay ... Peter Owen-Bisback Young Eisengrim ... Patrick Finnagan Youth Eisengrim ... Ted Dykstra Eisengrim's mother ... Michelle Fisk Eisengrim's father ... Brian McKay Willard ... Edward Atienza

TORONTO–Playwright Elliot Hayes has accomplished the formidable task of tailoring Robertson Davies’ theme-packed novel into a two-act play with varied degrees of success. The compelling story of a magician’s true beginnings unfolds amid a flurry of underlying themes. The account is passionately told by a solid cast of performers, but there were times when an abundance of activity onstage added more confusion than substance.

The play opens with the stage in semi-darkness as illusionist Magnus Eisengrim is levitated under a sheet. The blanket is then torn away with Eisengrim reappearing from the side as the lights come up. Nicholas Pennell plays Eisengrim with enigmatic charm. At the home of his companion, Liesl Vitzliputzli, Eisengrim entertains longtime friend Dunstan Ramsay and filmmaker Roland Ingestree. The evening becomes a recant of Eisengrim’s life. Ingestree wants to make a film that tells the truth about the magician’s past.

The reality turns out to be more sordid than Eisengrim’s current identity as the enchanting tux-and-tails attired magician. What unravels is the story of the son of a Baptist parson who was tormented by other townsfolk because of his saintly, yet sexually wayward mother. Eisengrim learned his craft at the expense of his innocence, catering to the sexual whims of an old magician. The stage is transformed into a carnival freak show with a cast of eccentric personalities.

Transitions move swiftly between past and present with effective use of simple sets. Magical effects, for the most part, enhance the captivating tale. Flashback sequences are effectively told with the grown-up character following his youthful character through scenes. The drama is heightened as the grown-up character reacts to emotions related to particular memories with both actors speaking some lines in unison.

Central to the storyline is the recurring question of who killed Boy Staunton , a wealthy industrialist who grew up with Eisengrim and Ramsay. Truth and justice are pivotal issues, along with religion, the devil, homosexuality, the inherent evil in children and the individual’s battle with reality vs. the invisible world of wonders.

Although the wealth of subject matter makes the production somewhat weighty at times, overall the well-directed effort makes for enjoyable fare.

Also among the productions currently being staged at Stratford are “Romeo and Juliet” and a wonderful revival of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore.”

“Romeo and Juliet,” set in the 1920s, is an interesting experiment that comes up short. Costume design is exceptional, but the wardrobe and sets from that time period don’t mesh well with the Shakespearean dialogue. Megan Porter Follows (from TV mini-series “Anne of Green Gables”) is a darling Juliet, but her engaging performance is held back by the comedic portrayal of Romeo by Antoni Cimolino. The lead actor is often upstaged by stronger cast members, including Colm Feore as the fiery Mercutio and Mervon Mehta as the intense Count Paris.

World of Wonders

(Avon Theatre; 1,107 seats; $ 38 top)

Production: A Stratford Festival presentation of a play in two acts written by Elliot Hayes, adapted from the novel by Robertson Davies. Directed by Richard Rose.

Creative: Sets, Stephen Britton Osler; costumes, Molly Harris Campbell; music composed by Don Horsburgh; lighting, Kevin Fraser; magic consultant, Thomas Baxter; fights directed by John Stead; choreography by John Broome; sound, Ryan Araki; stage manager, Marylu Moyer; prod. stage manager, Catherine Russell. Opened and reviewed June 2, 1992.

Cast: Magnus Eisengrim ... Nicholas Pennell Roland Ingestree ... Douglas Chamberlain Dunstan Ramsay ... Leon Pownall Liesl Vitzliputzli ... Pat Galloway "Boy" Staunton ... Peter Donaldson Young Staunton ... Todd Luey Young Ramsay ... Peter Owen-Bisback Young Eisengrim ... Patrick Finnagan Youth Eisengrim ... Ted Dykstra Eisengrim's mother ... Michelle Fisk Eisengrim's father ... Brian McKay Willard ... Edward AtienzaWith: Denise Fergusson, William Vickers, Patrick Finnagan, Michael Querin, Thomas Goerz, Doug Adler, Diego Matamoros, Ellen Horst, Marc Ruel, Shawn Wright.

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