Maestro, presented by Plosive Productions at the Gladstone, is an idealistic step forward in a lot of ways: it is an English-language premiere of a Canadian script set in Ottawa, in a production with performances in both French and English. Unfortunately Maestro (written by Claude Montminy) is not a good play, and the bilingual aspect to the production hinders the performance itself.
Maestro, translated by Nina Lauren and Danielle Ellen, is a farce with only three characters. First we have Maude, the ambitious principal second violin of the National Arts Centre Orchestra (NACO), who will resort to any means to snag the recently available position of concertmaster (Principal First Violin – a full-size orchestra has two violin sections). Next we have Ryan, Maude’s estranged-since-last-week composer husband whose career currently consists of commercial jingles and porn scores; nevertheless he is somehow able to collect fine wines. Lastly we have Zoltàn, the eccentric new Hungarian music director of NACO.
Maude invites Zoltàn over for dinner and drinks in an attempt to schmooze him into giving her the concertmaster job. When Ryan unexpectedly drops by to grab their deep fryer out of the basement (?) and discovers that Maude has opened one of his prized wines for Zoltàn, he invites himself to stay and sabotage the situation, only to find that he too can milk Zoltàn for potential career advancement.
The most disappointing thing about this script is not that it bears little to no resemblance to reality, though it certainly doesn’t help. Major orchestras don’t promote from within, especially for such an important job as concertmaster, and the music director is far from being the only person Maude would have to convince to hire her. Nor is the most disappointing thing about this script that Ryan and Maude are objectively terrible people what with all the lying and scheming; this is not unusual for farce, though usually the characters are supposed to be likable in a way that overcomes their moral dubiousness.
The most disappointing thing about this script is its assumption that tired tropes and clichés will still get a laugh out of audiences, mostly at Zoltán’s expense as the eccentric foreigner. His germophobic tendencies means he showers and air dries himself in Maude’s living room, prompting “male genitals are gross!” jokes; he gargles Ryan’s fine wine and spits it out into any available glass; he requires unusual massage techniques to get the knots out of his back. He is also openly sexist, and misinterprets Maude’s “friendliness” as sexual interest, meaning that the audience gets to watch a caricatured foreigner pursue a woman against her consent in more than one scene. To assume that this sort of humour would appeal to audiences in 2017 is misguided, to say the least.
This production is Maestro’s first in English, though there are French-language performances during the run as well. I suspect the French-language performances are stronger given that in those shows Manon Lafrenière (Maude) and Serge Paquette (Zoltàn) are acting in their first language, where they may have a more natural grasp of subtlety and comedic timing. The choice to have a bilingual production initially makes sense for a theatre company in Ottawa, though I wonder how well-attended the francophone performances are, given that most productions at the Gladstone are English-only and there is already an abundance of dedicated French theatres and theatre companies in Gatineau as well (not to mention La Nouvelle Scène on our side of the river). A bilingual production of a Canadian script in the capital is a savvy political move, but the poor quality of this text bogs down the good intent.
A Plosive Production
Written by Claude Montminy
Translated by Nina Lauren and Danielle Ellen
Directed by Gilles Provost
Stage Manager: Tina Goralski
Assistant Stage Manager: J. Katrina Wong
Set and Lighting Design: David Magladry
Sound Design: David Whiteley
Starring: Manon Lafrenière, Serge Paquette, David Whiteley