The historic Firehall Arts Centre was full of energy on the 6th of March for Michael Redhill’s play, “Goodness.” This production was successful both across Canada and internationally, setting high expectations for Vancouver theatregoers. It didn’t disappoint. It begins right when you first step foot into the theatre, where you can see an older lady sitting in the shadows upstage right in a chair against the wall. This creates intrigue, and you can’t help but wonder who she is, and why she’s just sitting there. She sits there perfectly still until her introduction.
This play tells the true story of how playwright Michael Redhill (Paul Braunstein) travels to his family’s homeland, Poland. After going through a divorce, he focusses himself on his family’s history and wants to learn more about the Holocaust. Angry, bitter, and emotionally drained, he tries to work on a project but finds himself uninspired. Just before leaving to go back home, he is sent to visit Althea (Lili Franks), the elderly lady sitting in the chair, who shares with him just the kind of story he was looking for. She takes us back to a time in her life when she was witness to a mass genocide of her own people.
The audience is addressed right from the start – eliminating the fourth wall, which has an inviting effect and draws the audience in. It begins lightheartedly, with jokes that make the audience laugh. It quickly builds intensity and gets very dramatic. The set, costumes, and props are minimal, leaving much up to the imagination. Some of the actors play multiple roles, which could get confusing at times since there was nothing to distinguish one character from the last. Heavy in dialogue, this production focuses on storytelling. The lighting is used effectively by creating simple yet powerful focal points. Visually, it is far from extravagant, which set a humble tone for the entire show.
What stands out the most is the beautiful vocal numbers that hold cultural significance, and compliment the dialogue. Very few sound effects are used that aren’t created by the actors themselves live on-stage. It is very pleasing to the ear and is used to create impact at pivotal moments in the show.
The acting is well done throughout the performance (Kudos to Lili Franks for an exceptional portrayal of Althea). Franks larger than life character and powerful voice make up for her small physique. It is easy to forget that you are watching a performance, and not just sitting in on a conversation in her living room.
Subjects of war and genocide combined with the theatrical make for a production that leaves a lasting impression. As the tale unfolds, themes of good, evil, suffering and justice ‘pop up’ here and there, but there is no real moment of clarity. In the end it is ultimately left up to the audience to take what they want from it. This is the kind of story that will remind you of all the atrocities humanity is capable of – it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. If you are looking for a happy-go-lucky night out, perhaps you should save this one for another time. If not, then bring on the heartbreak.
On Stage @ The Firehall Arts Centre
March 6 to 11, 2012
Talkback March 8
8pm Tuesday through Saturday
2pm Sunday matinee
1pm Wednesday matinee