Review: The World Premiere of 'The Waltz' at the Winnipesaukee Playhouse
- OnStage Massachusetts Critic
Director Neil Pankhurst has brought us the stunning World Premiere production of The Waltz, written by Broadway veteran Carolyn Kirsch. It is the untold story of a French sculptress named Camille Claudel, who spent her later years in a mental asylum near Avignon, France. This historically based, yet contemporarily relevant, memory play shows us Camille in three stages of her life: young, middle-age and old. Her oldest self begins the play as she talks to the audience and introduces them to her younger selves and a few other crucial characters who all live in her vibrant memory. She interacts with and talks to them as if they were really in the room with her at the asylum.
The set, designed by Inseung Park, was minimalistic, sharp and angular, featuring white blocks as furniture pieces with only a sheer white curtain as a softer element. Each of the Camille costumes, designed by Lori McGinley, were monochromatic white, gray or black with long flowing skirts, which were a nice contrast to the set. The color choices accentuated the asylum location, while also allowing Camille to transport us in her mind to different times and places. Vivid colors came from the lighting, designed by Thom Beaulieu, which further exemplified the contrasts presented. The music that was played, both live on a piano on stage and from recordings played through the sound system, were all composed by Claude Debussy. Their flowing melodies and the dances they inspired from Camille, juxtaposed the fractured nature of Camille’s memory and the set in a beautiful way.
At times, the play was a bit hard to follow, as it moved through time and space in a non-linear fashion, nonetheless, it was captivating to watch. Through the fourth wall, the audience was consistently engaged by the three Camilles and made to feel a part of the story. Carolyn Kirsch, the author, also portrayed Old Camille, Sebastian Ryder portrayed Middle Camille, and Kelley Davies portrayed Young Camille. These three, seamlessly, synchronized actors guided the audience through the story; moving from one moment, one event or one memory to another in a way that wonderfully exhibited the different parts of Camille’s personality and how, at each time in her life, she often remembered events slightly differently. For example, they all remember, a bit differently, the first meeting with Auguste Rodin, the French Sculptor, who became Camille’s mentor and lover. This scene exquisitely portrays humankind as a whole and realistically shows us how we ourselves remember events in our own lives differently, as time goes by.
Young Camille, as portrayed by Davies, is full of life, passion, optimism and artistic joy. Middle Camille, as portrayed by Ryder, becomes disillusioned and jaded by the world around her. She is angry because her work is not as appreciated or accepted by others in the art world all because she is a woman. People see her work and think things like ‘Oh, well Rodin is her mentor, so his hand is in her art and she only has an exhibit because of him’. Old Camille, as portrayed by Carolyn Kirsch, is confused by her past, upset with her family at being unjustly institutionalized and still believes she has a chance to be a great artist that people will remember. She displays both the passion and the jadedness of her younger selves. All three actors deliver incredible performances of one person, over time, in a way I have never seen done before. The quality and authenticity to which they portray Camille is outstanding.
The play also includes Rose Beuret, the wife of Auguste Rodin, portrayed by Debra Walsh, who comes in and out of Camille’s memory and often times antagonizes her younger selves. The conflicts that arise between the three Camille’s and Rose are fascinating to watch. What I find interesting is that Rose is a living character within Camille’s memory, but Rodin himself, though he is extensively discussed, is not physically present. This could be because of Camille’s diverse feelings for him over the course of the play. Rodin is remembered in many different ways both lovingly and not, while Rose is disliked by Camille in all three stages as an irritant and, at times, a harsh reality slap to Camille: in that Rodin will never leave Rose to marry her. Another character in this play is composer Claude Debussy, probably best known for his elegant musical movement “Clair de Lune”. Portrayed by John-Michael Breen, Debussy is a close companion to Camille, who is unable to get over her love for Rodin. In Debussy, she finds an artistic counterpart who deeply cares for and artistically challenges her. Breen, who, at the last minute, took on the role of the composer, portrayed him admirably.
Carolyn Kirsch says that in writing this play and sharing it with the world she hopes to shed light on the life and art of Camille Claudel, who many have not heard of before now. Though The Waltz only plays at the Winnipesaukee Playhouse until September 10th, it is a powerful story that needs to be witnessed. © For additional information and tickets to The Waltz visit www.winnipesaukeeplayhouse.org.
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From L to R: Carolyn Kirsch, Kelley Davies & Sebastian Ryder (all as Camille Claudel). Courtesy The Winnipesaukee Playhouse.