*Originally posted on the Capital Critics website here!*

False Assumptions: An “A” for Effort.

Brianna McFarlane

When Marie Curie discovered radium in 1898 she had no idea that not only would her work greatly impact the world of science, but that her life would inspire millions for years to come. False Assumptions was written by local playwright Lawrence Aronovitch as a special commission for the graduating class of the Ottawa Theatre School and is being directed by Teri Loretto-Valentik in partnership with Plosive Productions this March at the Gladstone.

Each year the graduating cohort is paired with a professional theatre company and is expected to stage a production under real world restrictions such as a four week rehearsal period and getting to workshop a brand new script. The aim is to prepare the class for the professional community as well as to show off the skills they’ve acquired over the last three years. After seeing the inaugural performance it’s easy to see that half of the class “radiate” these skills, while the others look like they’re just ending their first year in the program.

Aronovitch delves into the life and work of this incredible woman and focuses on her struggles as a female scientist at the turn of the 20th century. The script celebrates her tenacity and her ability to overcome all obstacles by becoming the only woman in history to win two Nobel prizes. Marie’s story is told by a ghostly pseudo-chorus of three prominent female figures, each excel in their own scientific achievements and, more importantly, philosophies: Hypatia of Alexandria (played by Karina Milech) representing antiquity; Ada Lovelace (Alexis Scott), also known as the Enchantress of Numbers; and Rosalind Franklin (Holly Griffith) who, of the trio, is Marie’s sole contemporary.

Not knowing why they’ve all been brought together, the chorus discovers Marie’s personal documents scattered across a room seemingly lost in time. By reading excerpts from these still radioactive books and letters we see Marie’s life acted before us through a series of flashbacks. Never letting her gender or relationships define her and never giving up her scientific pursuits, Curie proves to be an excellent choice for Aronovitch’s script.

Upon entering the theatre my eyes are immediately drawn to the glowing blue bottles in the downstage left corner that make up Marie’s study complete with wooden desk and chest of drawers. Perusing the rest of the stage, the suspended windows and books suggest a non-realistic space. Designed by Attila Clemman, the multi-level stage serves its purpose in separating the flashbacks, commanding the lower level, from the chorus, who are watching from above. Some of the costumes by Clemman, however, are questionable: Zorawska’s black pants and white blouse combo doesn’t seem to fit in with 1900s Paris and Hypatia’s garb is uninspired if not slightly predictable. The lighting, by John Solman, is mainly utilized when transitioning from the chorus to flashbacks and the lighting of the suspended windows is really quite pretty. The sound, by Ryan Acheson, is minimal and could definitely be stronger: I have no idea why Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me With Science” was chosen to end the show and I feel it’s a tacky addition to what is a reasonably strong ending.

Loretto-Valentik casts the piece cleverly keeping the strongest performers out front: Hannah Gibson-Fraser commands the stage with her Madame Curie, bringing all the proper conviction and tenacity to the part; Holly Griffith plays an equally strong Rosalind Franklin who is well aware of her character’s arc and motivations; Nick Fournier, as Pierre Currie, offers Gibson-Fraser a strong male presence to play against; and Karina Milech does a fine job as Hypatia bringing life to a relatively unknown character.

The rest of the cast, I’m sorry to say, are not nearly as strong and most of their performances are not what I expected to see from the graduating class of an acting conservatory. Forgotten and flubbed lines, problems with projection, and disproportionate rhythms make some of Aronovitch’s more colourful characters (in particular Missy Malone, Lovelace, and Paul) fall flat. It’s difficult to make excuses for these performers (opening night jitters, limited rehearsal period, unfamiliarity with the space etc.) as some of their other classmates were so strong.

In sum, after looking at OTS’ programs online and the training they offer their students, I’m left wondering what a four out of nine success rate means for the acting conservatory and more so what this means for the theatre community? While they can most certainly be proud of the four strong performers in this production, the other five could use a serious wake-up call.