• By: Jennifer Hartley

Feel the Love with Odyssey Theatre

All photos by Maria Vartanova.

Odyssey Theatre, the open-air theatre in Strathcona Park that specializes in telling stories with the use of masks, opened its 30th season on Sunday night, and this year’s theme is love. With a nod to three Spanish literary giants, (Cervantes and Tirso de Molina from Spain’s 17th century Golden Age of theatre and Federico García Lorca, from Spain’s 20th century scene), the Odyssey cast performs three one-act plays in just over two and a half hours.

Love 1
Karen Knox playing Finea speaks with Scott McCulloch as Clarin in “Whether You Like it or Not.”

The first, Saving Melisendra is a scene taken from the epic Cervantes novel, Don Quixote. Quixote, the deluded knight, and his squire Sancho Panza take in a puppet show about a damsel in distress. In his madness, Quixote believes it’s real and inserts himself in the performance with disastrous results.

The second scene, Lorca’s tragicomedy The Love of Don Perlimplin and Belisa in the Garden, looks at the love between an older man and his younger wife. Belisa’s wandering eye is known to her husband Perlimplin, who finds a creative way to deal with it, but his plan ends in tragedy.

The third, Whether You Like it or Not, by Tirso de Molina, is a brilliant play about a Hungarian aristocrat who will stop at nothing to pursue the love of her life. Her cunning, clever ways result in hilarious situations while providing a critique of honour and courtly love.

Saving Melisendra appropriately includes puppets, as they are in the original text, and while the puppets are beautiful, the way they’re used is awkward. There might just be too much busyness on stage around them or perhaps the actors move around too much while puppeteering. Either way, something is distracting. The play is still entertaining, but it is not the highlight of the evening.

The Love of Don Perlimplin and Belisa in the Garden is a darker play and deals with infidelity and love’s complexities. It is very well done. The masks make things dreamier and the actors’ movements around the stage are fantastic. Chandel Gambles dances across the stage as the coquettish Belisa while William Beddoe captures the Perlimplin’s complexity, who at first appears as the duped husband but is not so naive by the end.

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Mark Huisman (Federico), Scott McCulloch (Clarin) and Karen Knox (Finea) rejoice in “Whether You Like it or Not.”

The third installment, Whether You Like it or Not, is definitely the most satisfying of the three plays. It is a fantastic piece of theatre with a funny plot and lots of twists. Karen Knox, who plays the lead character Finea, steals the show. She is phenomenal. Mark Huisman, playing the confused and bewildered Count Federico, the apple of Finea’s eye, is fantastic as well. Chandel Gambles offers another great performance as Florela, the Count’s maligned betrothed.

Overall, the acting in all three plays is great, and serves as further proof that Odyssey productions never disappoint. The masks make a fascinating addition to the productions and bring out a particular acting talent. Communicating and performing without the ability to use facial expressions may look easy, but it is certainly not. The Odyssey sets are always creative and make interesting use of items such as ladders and boxes. The Things We Do for Love is no exception.

For a fun night of theatre under the stars, be sure to catch The Things We Do for Love. It runs until August 23 and general admission tickets are $25. (Do your behind a favour and spring for a pillow to sit on. Alternatively, bring your own lawn chair.) Find out more at odysseytheatre.ca.