The theatrical return of a Canadian legend

By Simon Mallett

Few would doubt that Glenn Gould as a brilliant musician and much has been written about his work as a pianist and composer. But Gould was as famous for his eccentricities. Attempts have been made to explore the inner workings of Gould’s mind, such as Francois Girard’s brilliant film Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, but little is known about the private life of one of the finest musicians in Canadian history.

Blacklist Theatre Project’s production of David Young’s play Glenn is another artistic exploration of the man, attempting to shed light on the enigmatic pianist. By splitting Gould into four characters based on four different stages of his life, the play allows Gould, late in his life as The Puritan (Tim Koetting), to talk to himself as a young Prodigy (Evan Rothery). Along with Gould as The Performer (Philip Warren Sarsons) and The Perfectionist (Trevor Leigh), these conversations revisit moments in Gould’s career, providing a fictionalized account of what may have been going on inside of Gould’s head, exploring his fears, hopes and disappointments in the process. In taking on this challenging script, the four actors bring strong performances, with Leigh and Koetting standing out, bringing great strength and humanity to the latter stages of Gould’s life.

With the play exploring Gould’s public and private lives, the play is a combination of theory, history, philosophy and music. As a result, it’s a little more of a cerebral exercise than a lot of theatre, but the effort required to connect the non-linear plot and frequent tangents, on the part of the audience, is well-rewarded. There are some unique ideas and possibilities about the mysterious Gould presented throughout the play.

The script may have a lot to offer, the production itself stalls at times. The Jack Singer Rehearsal Hall, where the show is staged, is not generally a theatre space and it shows. The set, a black and white space with a variety of multi-purpose set pieces and props works well, but the lighting options are limited. It seems as though the sound design attempts to make up for lighting, but it instead becomes distracting at times and would have benefited from the audience being able to hear the actors without the accompanying contrapuntal soundscape.

For the most part, director Kevin McKendrick stages the action well, but his choices with regard to scene transitions and blackouts accompanying the piano (presumably because the actors cannot even begin to try to mimic Gould’s playing) are unimaginative and detract from the overall effect of the play.

Despite its mainly technical flaws, the strong acting and thoroughly insightful investigation into the mind of a brilliant musician make Glenn worthy of your time if you find yourself interested in the life and work of one of Canada’s greatest pianists.

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