Life is full of opportunities for love, but also for love lost and love regained, then lost again. The Assumption of Empire presents an endless circle of such opportunities, laced with the mundane and the exciting, with humour and tragedy.
The play weaves in and out of Sophie Wiseman's life between the past and the present, flipping back and forth between the two main men her life: one representing the great big world out there, stretching as far as Russia, Eastern Europe, the Ukraine, but also the world within, of expanded consciousness, intelligence and education; the other rooted firmly in the daily rituals of life, including regular bowel movements, a former high school teacher now working successfully in his father's 'schmata' business.
Sometimes in "women's" theatre, that is, where the playwright and lead character are women, men become cardboard cutouts, stereotypes without much to add to the scenery except perhaps a hulking presence. The men's characters in Assumption of Empire are multi-dimensional, rich and deep in their character development. It does not hurt the cause that the parts are played so deftly by such talented actors as Bill Croft and Tim Hine.
Tim Hine's Ivan could have become an object of disgust and pity for the audience, an older man, an often disenchanted professor, a man who has had his heart broken by a succession of women – his artist first wife, the much younger, idealistic firebrand, Sophie, his daughter, even the wife he professes not to care that much about, who commits suicide.
Instead, he endears himself to the audience, even when he is lumbering about awkwardly in his underwear in scenes that should ooze sex. You find yourself rooting for him, hoping he will see that Sophie doesn't deserve him, wishing he didn't love her so much. His bellows of love for her are both tortured and joyous. You know this can't end well.
In contrast, Bill Croft's portrayal of the solid Steve, a family man, a company man and a doting father, sneaks up on you. Just when you dismiss him as a chump, putting up with Sophie's moods, he brings a depth of character that makes clear he is the glue that holds them together with the simplicity of the phrase "a kind and decent man."
Alice Abracen brings both a sense of detachment and vulnerability to the role of the young Elliott, portraying the typical angst and cruelty that teenagers dole out to their parents at every possible opportunity. She plays Sophie like a harp, pulling her strings, raising her hopes that everything will be all right.
Everything WILL be all right, but Sophie so needs to control everything that she overplays her hand every time, only driving her daughter further away. Luckily it is into the arms of her father and not some sinister force.
Sophie is the tour de force here. She is sexy and sad, daring and dramatic. You want to hate her for yanking everyone's chain the way she does, but you want to like her because she seems to crave it so desperately. You want her to grow up, but you don't want her to grow old. That Laura Mitchell can make you care for an often despicable character is testament to the range of her abilities. Best of all is her delivery of humourous lines to cut the tension. She is a master of the offhand comment, the clever quip and cutting sarcasm.
There is no surprise that the educational process plays such an integral part of the piece. A good number of the main players behind the scenes and on stage have connections to Dawson College, from Laura Mitchell to Steve Schon, the lighting master, to director Paul Hawkins and set and costume designer Louise Arsenault, and certainly not least, Ann Lambert, the playwright.
It is also no surprise then that the turning point in the play hinges on the Dawson shooting. It acts as the catalyst for setting things right in all that is wrong with this particular empire.
-Venue: 3997 St. Laurent
-Ticket Purchase: (514) 849-3378 or www.mainlinetheatre.ca
-Ticket Prices: Regular: $20
Tuesdays (March 3, 10, 17): $10
-Show Times: Tuesday-Saturday: 8:00 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday Matinees: 2:00 p.m