Angst and Anning: an awry comedy.

By Alidor Aucoin on October 26, 2011

Colleen  Curran’s  True Nature, which opened the Centaur ‘s Theatre season, is really an academic lecture about Mary Anning, the obscure 19th century fossil  hunter,  disguised as a play.  

It is also a sophomoric variation on an increasingly familiar theme involving neurotic baby-boomers torn between romantic commitment and a career. True Nature appears  to have grown out of a series of focus groups  that came up with a cross-section of characters  designed to  appeal to as broad an audience as possible. So you have Anna, the earnest, feminist academic who is fascinated by  Anning, the Victorian “princess of paleontology”  who  discovered the first Plesiosaur and who incidentally, was the inspiration for the  toungue-twister, “She sells sea shells by the sea shore.” 

true_nature_01.jpgThen there’s  Mitch,  Anna’s clueless but sincere love interest;  Simon, the stereotypically  gay confident;  Mimi, Mitch’s brassy Jewish sister,  and Robin,  Anna’s  unmarried friend to whom the stork comes knocking just as she thinks she’s over the hill. The personal lives of this extended family are occasionally funny but strangely disconnected, the dialogue for the most part banal.  Curran propels the action mechanically according to the conventions of a romantic comedy.  In this case, a spat  over  whether  Anna  should  accept a a six month fellowship to pick fossils in England is enough to threaten the budding romance.  Who would have thought such a simple decision in the age of instant communication and video-chat could sustain a plot and cause so much angst?

true_nature_02.jpgThe cast, for the most part, is capable.  Leni  Parker  carrys the role of Anna with intelligence and conviction.  Bruce  Dinsmore  is miscast as her Jewish boyfriend.   Michel  Perron as Simon, the gay neighbour,  fields some of the best  lines.  Felicia Shulman is delightfully over the top as the ever - kevetching  Mimi.  Mary Harvey doesn’t really have much to do except  bounce around on  an  exercise ball.  The production is, however,  stylish with a couple of wryly amusing scenes and  dashes of visual flair, especially a scene in which the ghosts of Mary Anning haunt Mitch.  Director Amanda  Kellock has a solid grip on the slippery  material.  James Lavoie’s set is something of a miracle  when you consider it accommodates  about a dozen scene changes in a play that runs for almost two hours without an intermission , scenes  that include three different apartment settings, a lecture hall, a museum,  a beach scene, a hockey game at the Bell Centre,  not to mention the  cliffs of Lyme Regis in Dorset. 

The question though, remains. Why did the Centaur choose such a disappointing season opener?  Was it in response to  the Women’s Caucus of the Playwrights Guild of Canada who last year complained Canadian theatres weren’t producing enough plays by Canadian female playwrights in Canada. Curran is a local playwright, but True Nature is not the best argument in favour of affirmative action.  A play about Mary Anning?  Now, that might be something for Curran to consider. 

True Nature is at the Centaur until  Nov. 6.

 

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