Summerfolk: A review

Photographs by Joseph Hammond

[S]oothing Russian music filled the air as we waited for the show to begin. It’s a semi-full house on the opening night of the Ryerson Theatre School’s production of Summerfolk, written by Maxim Gorky and directed by Dean Gilmour. The lights dimmed as the curtain rises. There is nothing but a single candle lit on stage with a young woman making her way to the centre. It takes less than a few minutes for the quick wit and frenzy to begin.

Varya, played by fierce theatre student Elysia White, is the main protagonist. She is surrounded by the day-to-day drama of her fellow bourgeoisie in a 1904 Russia, while despairingly longing to live a worthwhile life. The play revolves around her journey trying to break free from her seemingly hollow life that is tangled with self-involved family and friends. Dealing with hysterical friends, a cynical, self-deprecating brother and a husband who seems to distance himself from the audacious statements of his own wife, Varya broods and asks many accusatory, rhetorical questions. But that is to be expected of a Russian playwright.

It seemed that everybody in Summerfolk had a special kind of bitterness towards each other, but remained persistent in their facades in order to survive keeping up their “sane” appearances. But there’s a limit for everything. Relationships and lifelong friendships are put to the test and infidelity is revealed – the network of relationships is intricate and at times, difficult to follow.

The storyline may have been a little slow – considering the show was a lengthy three hours – but the actors did a tremendous job with their roles. While the Russian surnames seemed too convoluted to remember, the actors made sure to leave the audience with an powerful impression of each character. The cast consists of 18 fourth-years from the Ryerson’s performance acting program, each of who have impressive biographies.

Summerfolk will play at the Ryerson theatre, located at 43 Gerrard St. E., until Nov. 2. Tickets are on sale at the box office at $14 for students.

With files from Maria Siassina