Under the Coat
As produced by the Canadian Stage Company, Nikolai Gogol's tale is given an early 20th century futuristic look: proletariats attired in black and white, or grey and brown, swarm through a utilitarian, two-storied set built along clean geometric lines. The lighting often reinforces this strict geometry, particularly in the sweatshop scene where each well-muscled "seamstress" is lit tic-tac-toe style, one grid-square at a time. Fueled throughout by the music of Dmitri Shostakovich, the actors' movements seem all the more motorific. I applaud the uncredited musical consultant who crafted the seamless score; waltzes from the Jazz and Ballet Suites merge with music from the two Piano Concertos, lacing social frivolity with an ominous portent. Everything--sound, lighting, set and costume--works together to heighten the dynamism of movement onstage. Sometimes a narrator needs no words.
In this adaptation of The Overcoat, we watch the main character (The Man, played by Peter Anderson) endure his rather humdrum existence as part of the masses and wince when, almost on a whim, he decides to spend his life savings on a brilliant purple coat. The article of clothing initially seems capable of altering how people read him--he enjoys wine, women and song--but then the loss of the coat shatters the illusion. It is as if Gogol taunts, 'see what happens when you wish for more?' The production is much smarter than The Man, never wishing for (never needing) the artificial adornment of language. As Paynch remarks, "you could use words, but then the whole thing would become silly." The inner workings are enough; gesture and movement convey a narrative plot clearly and specifically. Whether bunched all together as if riding a crowded bus, or streaming endlessly across the stage at the wryly choreographed curtain-call, the actors celebrate what hides under the coat; they strip off the usual wordiness and expose a surprisingly animate (albeit silent) machine.
The Overcoat, at A.C.T through September 25. Highly recommended.