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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Garage Theatre's Intense Enigma Variations

Enigma Variations

Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt's twisty Enigma Variations has been widely performed around the world since its highly praised Paris premiere in 1996. It is now making its area debut in an English translation by Jeremy Sams. Although the play uncomfortably tries to sit in two chairs at the same time, it is provocative and thought provoking, and, as such, will well reward the attendance of serious theatregoers.

This two-hand, one-act, single-scene full- length play is set on a remote island in the Norwegian Sea in the study of the home of reclusive Noble Prize winning novelist Abel Znorko. Having inexplicably been granted an interview by Znorko, Erik Larsen, an unsung reporter for a small town newspaper, has journeyed two hundred miles for it.

Larsen is mostly interested in Znorko's latest book. It is an epistolary novel made up of a decade of love letters exchanged by "Abel Znorko" and "Eva Larmor." After two years of living together, "Abel" left "Eva" to assume a reclusive life, and the two continued their relationship via the letters without ever again seeing one another. Despite Larsen's probing questions, Znorko initially insists that "Eva" is his fictitious creation.

Although veteran theatregoers will by now realize that not everything is what it appears to be, it would be unfair for a reviewer to reveal the revelations that lie ahead. Although at some points, you are likely to think (quite possibly correctly) that you are ahead of Schmitt and his interpreters, rest assured that there will be further (and further) revelations that will almost certainly catch you by surprise.

The many revelations and melodramatic moments (gun shots are employed, probably unnecessarily, as suspenseful and comic devices early and late) are the stuff of light entertainment. On the other hand, Schmitt, who taught philosophy prior to embarking on a full time career as a writer, communicates complex and insightful thoughts about the nature, diversity, complexity and mystery of human love. These significant aspects of Enigma Variations each tend to undermine the other.

It is not possible to know to what extent this problem is inherent in Schmitt's original text, derives from Jeremy Sams translation from the French, or may be exacerbated by director Frank Licato's decision to concentrate on the deeper aspects of the work and de-emphasize its melodrama. Another problem with the play is the recurring sense that we are hearing dialogue which is coming from the pen of the author rather than expressing the thoughts of his characters. The performances mitigate against this to the greatest extent possible.

Frank Licato has elicited performances from his actors that are richly natural and spontaneous. Placing the audience on both sides of the stage, rather than in the theatre auditorium, Licato allows us to intimately observe the details of the cat and mouse game that is taking place between two men each of whom is in the process of slowing baring his soul as far he is able. Fairly early on, Jamie Laverdiere makes it clear that his Eric Larsen knows precisely what he is seeking from Znorko. Laverdiere keeps a steady gaze on Znorko, varying his tone and approach as he attempts to seize upon Znorko's vulnerabilities. As Abel Znorko, Robert Funaro, employing hesitations and slightly off-kilter movement, reveals the fear and wariness which are part and parcel of his reclusive existence. Even when he is browbeating and seemingly terrorizing Larsen, Funaro conveys that it is his Znorko who is cornered and afraid.

It is not surprising that with Enigma Variations, the Garage Theatre continues to offer northern New Jersey audiences serious, difficult and rewarding theatre.

Enigma Variations continues performances (Thursday-Saturday 8 pm/ Sunday 3 pm) through February 28, 2010, at the Becton Theatre (on the campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University), 960 River Road, Teaneck, New Jersey, 07670. Box Office: 201-569-7710; online: www.GarageTheatre.org.

Enigma Variations by Eric-Emmanuel; translated by Jeremy Sams; directed by Frank Licato

Cast
Abel Znorko..........................Robert Funaro
Erik Larsen.......................Jamie Laverdiere


Photo: Justin Bias


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- Bob Rendell



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