Skip to main content

Review: Michael Ondaatje's Divisadero: a performance

Review: Necessary Angel in association with The Film Farm presents
Divisadero: a performance
Text by Michael Ondaatje
Directed by Daniel Brooks
Songs written and performed by Justin Rutledge
Featuring Liane Balaban, Maggie Huculak, Tom McCamus, Amy Rutherford and Justin Rutledge

Divisadero: a performance should be taken at its word. This is a literary work in performance mode, fat with words and a love of language and lit up by a great sense of storytelling that emerges from the voices of the performers.  The staging is minimalist, with a kind of false curtain at the back for entrances and exits, a couple of peripheral seating areas sketched out at either side of the stage, and four microphones that take up the foreground. There are bits of action here and there, but the majority of the piece unfolds at those four mics and in the tumultuous family history that unravels in the flow of words.

I haven't read the eponymous book (not all of it, not yet) but it wasn't necessary to follow the storyline or get caught up in its twists and turns. It begins with Anna and Claire, young women brought up together by Anna's taciturn father on a farm, made a threesome when the family takes in Cooper, or Coop, the slightly older boy from the neighbouring farm after he's orphaned in violent circumstances. We hear the voices of Anna (Maggie Huculak) - as a grown up with the insight of someone who became a writer - and Claire (Liane Balaban) in real time, as the adolescent girl, and observe as the sexual tensions ramp up, eventuallly building to an unexpected explosion that sends the three young lives careening in different directions.

The story continues in a fragmented kind of form, with Coop at the centre, more often talked about than speaking for himself. He remains an only partly-known object of longing and desire, sometimes singing, sometimes playing the guitar in the background, where we delve much more deeply into Anna and even Claire. I'd be interested how the novel treats these shifts in point of view and depth of characterization. While I wouldn't call any of the performances weak per se, the story was at its most visceral and alive in the characters of druggy Bridget (Amy Rutherford) as Coop's Achilles heel, and in Tom McCamus, who's a born storyteller with a larger than life presence as the gambler Mancini. He held the audience in the palm of his hand with his yarn about Coop and the great con he pulls in Vegas.

The piece tackles themes of love and desire, loss and separation, and the lifetime of ripples that flow from a single violent episode. The random violence of the story comes across as somewhat removed, as it would in a talky piece like this, related from the memory of the characters and not from a direct point of view; one of the origins of the word "Divisadero" comes from the Spanish Divisar, meaning "to gaze from a distance", or "a point from which you can look far into the distance" - the writer's point of view. The one real quibble I'd have is with the reiteration of certain ideas and scenes retold in the story, a literary device that has a certain effect on the page that I don't think translates as well to the stage, but it's not a constant element and didn't detract in my enjoyment of the piece. I was engrossed in the story right up to its melancholy conclusion.

Just a note - please don't be like the boorish gentleman to my left, who insisted on yakking throughout the final monologue. Most of us really do want to hear every word.

Images by Cylla von Tiedemann:
• L-R: Justin Rutledge (as Coop),  Amy Rutherford (as Bridget), Maggie Huculak (as Anna), & Tom McCamus (as Gil)
• L-R: Liane Balaban (as Claire), Justin Rutledge (as Coop) and Maggie Huculak (as Anna)
• L-R: Justin Rutledge as Coop and Amy Rutherford as Bridget• L-R: Tom McCamus as Mancini 

Performances continue to February 20, 2011 at Theatre Passe Muraille's Mainspace, 16 Ryerson Avenue
Tuesday-Saturday 8pm, Sunday 2pm
Tickets: Tuesday - Thursday $25, Fridays  $30, Saturdays $35, Sunday Matinee PWYC
To Purchase Tickets Please Call: Theatre Passe Muraille Arts Box Office: 416-504-7529
Or Visit:


What Else Is Hot This Week?

Harlem Stage Digital Event: A Drop Of Midnight October 13 & 15 2020

From a release:Harlem Stage Digital Event:
A Drop Of Midnight
October 13 & 15 2020A two-part conversation with Jason ‘Timbuktu’ Diakité and his creative team around the developmental process of creating his autobiographical theater project, A Drop of Midnight. In this conversation Jason will take us on his journey to becoming one of Sweden’s chart-topping hip-hop artists and a best-selling author. He’ll also share the story of how a mixtape from Brooklyn traveled across the waters to the tiny village of Lund, Sweden and altered the course of his life forever. We will examine the impact of hip hop music and culture on the globe. How has hip-hop united communities of color globally?  How do you translate a personal story into a universal truth? How do you build a creative team? How has the current climate of social justice informed your artistic practice? Jason will read excerpts from the play and share some of the music. October 13—Part IIn this conversation A Drop of Midnight author…

Review: Night of the Kings / La Nuit des Rois by Philippe Lacôte

Night of the Kings
La Nuit des Rois
by Philippe LacôteA France, Côte d'Ivoire, Canada and Senegal co-productionNow Playing In The New York Film FestivalImageAfter Venice and the Toronto Film Festival, Philippe Lacôte's Night of the Kings has moved on to conquer New York City. A young pickpocket (Koné Bakary), is incarcerated in the giant La MACA prison, the largest in Côte d’Ivoire. The prison offers a hostile atmosphere, where the guards have long given up keeping order and the prisoners run the show, albeit confined within the prison walls. They dance, sing, and mingle at will in a common area called The Jungle. There is a violent power struggle between Lord Blackbeard (Steve Tientcheu), who runs things, and the younger leaders of other factions. Blackbeard is old and infirm, and he knows he can't hold on forever. But, he does want to hold on long enough to leave on his own terms. Blackbeard designates the newcomer as the new storyteller - the griot - called Roma…

So You Can't Go: Six Ways To Travel Virtually

So You Can't Go:
Six Ways To Travel VirtuallyTravel is limited for most of us in the world these days. For Canadians, it depends on the province you live in, but with the border to the US still closed, and other options limited at best, virtual travel from the couch can provide at least a view with a difference at a time when you may well need it most. Google Cardboard – VR On A BudgetYou don't need a lot of cash to get into travel via virtual reality. Google Cardboard is a line of VR viewers that are, well, made of cardboard, and are priced starting at $12CAD.If you check out this link, you'll find out how to download the software to your smartphone.At this link, you can get yourself an actual Google Cardboard for a hands-free VR experience. Google Cardboard apps offer a variety of ways to experience our beautiful planet, including Google Earth itself, which can take you anywhere, along with apps to view museums and cultural artifacts, and more.Ascape VRAscape has a huge l…

Modern Romanticism | Stanley Grill: And I Paint Stars with Wings (Innova Recordings / February 14, 2020)

Modern Romanticism:
Stanley Grill: And I Paint Stars with Wings
In praise of mysteries
(Innova Recordings / February 14, 2020)Composers: Stanley Grill
Performers: Camerata Philadelphia, Stephen Framil, Brett Douglas, Deubner, Peggy Pei-Ju YuCheck Out The Release On Innova RecordingsAmerican composer Stanley Grill is about to release another album of his work, so I thought I'd catch up on the last one, And I Paint Stars with Wings. 
His work with Camerata Philadelphia and others on the release is melodic and evocative, modern romanticism with achingly sweet harmonies. Grill's goal is to use his music to encourage thoughts of world peace, most obviously evidenced in Pavanne (for a world without war) for string orchestra. It's part of his Music for Peace project, composed, as described by the composer “after having made a decision that my music needed to serve another purpose besides the obvious one of touching the hearts of those who listened to it. However unlikely of success, t…

Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company Spring 2013 Toronto Performances

From a media release:

The new season brings
Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company
to new heights and new audiences

March 20-24, 2013 - A Night in Madrid
April 25-28, 2013 - Annual Toronto Season - World Premiere of Portales

TORONTO : Following on the heels of Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company's (EESDC) 30th anniversary year where its production Aguas/Waters was named one of the top five dance shows of 2012 by NOW Magazine, the early months of 2013 are full of excitement and possibility for Esmeralda and the company, which brings the finest flamenco and Spanish Classical Dance to Toronto stages.

March 20-24, 2013 - A Night in Madrid
Company dancers Esmeralda Enrique and Paloma Cortés perform Spanish Classical dance with the celebrated Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir for A Night in Madrid featuring the Iberian flavoured music of composer Luigi Boccherini who made his home in Spain. His work is infused with the sounds of Spanish and gypsy folk music.

March 20-24 …