Corpus, by Darrah Teitel, had its world premiere at the Arts Court Theatre on May 1st, giving the crowd an interesting look at the Holocaust from the perspective of its survivors and researchers. Directed by Bronwyn Steinberg, the staging combined with Patrice-Ann Forbes’ (Costume, set and props design) set makes for some very memorable moments that are complimented for the most part by the video projections (designed by Wes Kline). Funny and poignant, the compelling design and solid performances make Corpus a show that is definitely worth checking out.
Set in present day Toronto with flashbacks to 1940’s Poland at the end of the war, Corpus tells the story of Megan (Sascha Cole), a researcher studying genocides who spends her time interviewing former Nazis she meets in online chat-rooms or pining after her thesis supervisor Homer (John Koensgen). In an attempt to dive into the online dating pool, she meets Heinrich (Daniel Sadavoy), whose grandmother’s story from the war drastically changes the course of Megan’s thesis. The story doesn’t simply belong to Megan, but also largely to Eva (played by Laurie Fyffe as an old woman and Colleen Sutton during the flashbacks to her youth), who is plagued by the ghost from her past who appears in the present and brings on the flashbacks to when she lived in Auschwitz with her Nazi officer husband. Eric Craig plays Eli, a Jewish inmate at Auschwitz hired by Eva’s husband to teach her Polish. Craig does a fantastic job of playing the two manifestations of Eli, that is as the ghost who haunts Eva and as the tortured prisoner in her flashbacks, and is so convincing with his emotion and accent. He is a delight to watch and I found that his presence on stage makes for some extremely interesting scenic moments.
The audience is placed on either side of the long rectangular playing space and the floor is a painted map representing half of Canada and half of Poland. The set pieces are then arranged by area – there was a living room set on one side, representing Heinrich and Eva’s house in Germany; with a kitchen table in the middle, that was mainly used during the flashbacks to Poland; and two desks on the opposite end created the office space where Megan conducts her work in Toronto. Not everything is fully visible to the audience, as one side will get a different view than the other, but the video projections set up at either end of the stage compensate for the shortcomings quite well and actually make the set more interesting staging wise, as I was worried I would not be able to see the actors emotions. One prime example of this working effectively is during an online conversation through a webcam, each character is showed on a projector screen so we can see not only their facial reactions, but what the character would actually be seeing during the online conversation. The sound design (also by Wes Kline) is also for the most part complimenting to the stage action and story line. My favorite moment of the sound was also during the online conversation as they played the internet robot voice throughout the audience. Lighting (designed by Leeza Gulliver) uses different tones and shades to differentiate the spaces, which is very helpful in the beginning of the play when the story lines are still rather jumbled.
The acting by the cast overall is very good. The standouts for me are Sascha Cole and Eric Craig, whose portrayals are funny yet touching, and so interesting to watch physically while still being emotionally involved in them. John Koensgen’s Homer is rather bland, as when he is on stage I could feel the tempo of the scene drop. However, I’m not sure whether this is because of the character, who I feel is one dimensional in comparison to the others, or Koensgen not effectively portraying the true depth to this character, making some of his actions seem disingenuous.
There are some moments that are rather shaky, namely the “press release” scenes. They are a weird mix between the reality world and the ghost world, as they seem to be dreams, but also seem to have repercussions in the real world. They are a weird jump that is unprecedented in the first act. They look different than every other moment in the show and work differently in the dialogue, and overall they just feel very strange as if they don’t fit with the rest of the play. Despite these moments however, I really enjoyed Corpus. I found the story to be an interesting take and perspective on a very well-known and used aspect of historical theatre and the composition of the piece certainly makes for interesting watching. I am certain that this is a script that will be produced again in the future.
Corpus written by Darrah Teitel
Presented by Counterpoint Players
Arts Court Theatre May 1-10
Directed by Bronwyn Steinberg
Starring: Sascha Cole, Eric Craig, Laurie Fyffe, John Koensgen, Daniel Sadavoy and Colleen Sutton
Production & Design team: Nicolas Alain, Sean Green, Patrice-Ann Forbes, Leeza Gulliver and Wes Kline