“Tonight's performance will be one hour and fifteen minutes- with no interval'. My eyes gleamed. I am not a fan of intervals. I think they are entirely unnecessary unless the set needs to be redressed. You don't ask a person to leave in the middle of a film (unless you are Rodgers and Hammerstein) even in a Scorsese epic. So why uproot your interested audience in the middle of your show? Ridiculous. Possessions however, did not have an interval. I walked into the King St Theatre smiling.
POSSESSIONS, written and directed by its two co-stars Carrie Ann Quinn and Jane Bergeron, is a collation of the memoirs of Hortense and Marie Mancini. The two Rome-born sisters, married off by their Uncle Cardinal Mazarin, in what would hopefully be advantageous marriages for the girls but ultimately saw them abused, reputations tarnished and with attempts to silence both women made by their respective husbands. I feel like this story could have been told in a much clearer way than it was. The story jumped around through time like a half-squashed cricket. The characters were never fixed in their own reality with Hortense constantly popping up in the present tense. I believe the intention was that the ghost of Hortense was directing the playwrights on how to write a show based on her memoirs. I think. The narrative was very unclear, but this is the danger of self-directed performances.
The transition from character to character was handled less than masterfully by Quinn and Bergeron. It was hard to tell which character was present at any given time. I really wish more attention had been paid to the way characters were differentiated from each other and less time relying on props to do this. There was no coherence as the shifts in time and character were never well executed, which left me and the rest of the audience trying to play catch up. I would rather see acting handle these transitions rather than wigs.
The first forty-five minutes was mostly exposition, setting the girls up into their marriages through a series of letters they had written each other. I would have liked to have seen this performed instead of being told what happened. If I wanted the memoirs read to me I would have ordered an audio book. I think the piece also relied too heavily on props, modern music, glitter, video and other gimmicks and the performances struggled for it. I would have been much happier to have seen the performance stripped of everything except the two women. It would be stronger and less distracting.
Basically this is a 17th Century 'Beaches' songs and all. The only thing missing was the emotional connection to the characters. It felt didactic and I suppose it was but good writing would have meant that I shouldn't have noticed. I am also not sure why there were five other actors on the stage. They were just props really. At one point we were reminded at their uselessness when one went to speak a line and Hortense and Marie shout in unison, 'No! You don't have any lines in this play'. I get that they are silencing a man to underline how Marie and Hortense were silenced as women and now they were finally getting their voice, but really? A whole meat-prop ensemble just for that?
The audience was small and unforgiving and did not respond to laughter cues that appeared in the third act, which is a shame because the third act was actually pretty solid. Quinn was much stronger and I really began to feel for Marie Mancini. This was due to rawness and vulnerability of Quinn's performance. The 'You Don't Own Me' packing montage was cute. I really wish the entire piece had the energy and style of this scene.
One thing that struck me as particularly odd was in one scene, amidst all the glitter and modular set, the two sisters sat fanning themselves with imaginary fans. What? You could afford five meat-props but couldn't spring for fans? I don't get it.
As a feminist I understand the potential importance of this piece and I definitely think it is a story that should be told. With a few script tweaks and a bigger emphasis on story and character and less on trying to make it edgy and post-modern this could be a significant piece of feminist theatre.