It's the audience who is ultimately rewarded with this sparkling, fantastical romantic comedy.
—Joff Schmidt, theatre reviewer
A wealthy heiress offers a "substantial reward" to the man who can successfully seduce her - this is the premise that kicks off Quebecois playwright Carole Fréchette's John and Beatrice, which opens Theatre Projects Manitoba's season.
But it's the audience who is ultimately rewarded with this sparkling, fantastical romantic comedy.
A modern fairy tale for grown-ups, the play begins with John (Kevin Klassen) climbing to the 33rd floor of the otherwise-abandoned building where Beatrice (Tracy Penner) has sequestered herself.
Kevin Klassen and Tracy Penner in "John and Beatrice" (Leif Norman)
Through posters plastered around the city, Beatrice - the veritable princess in a tower - has promised a reward to the man who can pass the challenges she has devised to win her heart, and end her romantic drought. John, a pragmatic bounty hunter whose true love is $20 bills, decides to take on the task.
But at the end of Beatrice's challenges, the two become quite literally trapped in the tower together, and John and Beatrice
becomes a comedic fable about the nature of romantic relationships, and how we live with our lovers - or don't.
All of this is presented with mix of quirky charm, wit, and moments of tragic heartbreak by Fréchette (her play is translated from French by John Murrell). As John and Beatrice tell each other stories, we're drawn into their world, where reality and fantasy blur...but emotional truth resonates. Fréchette's script wanders a bit in finding its ending, but offers plenty of surprises along the way.John and Beatrice
is given a sharp production by director Ardith Boxall, who skillfully navigates the play's considerable emotional range, and gives it plenty of visual appeal. Fluid video projections (by lighting designer Hugh Conacher) are splashed over Brian Perchaluk's desert-themed set, pulling us into the curious reality of Beatrice's sanctuary.
Klassen delivers a crisp performance as John, the bounty hunter with a "deep, dark cave" where his heart should be. Penner embraces the role of the off-kilter Beatrice admirably, making her sympathetic while not glossing over her flaws. The two have a believable chemistry onstage, and carry the play's 85-minute running time easily.
In finding a surprisingly creative take on the romantic comedy, John and Beatrice appears to have lost nothing in its translation.John and Beatrice runs at the Rachel Browne Theatre (in the Crocus Building) until November 11.