Toward the end of Flat Earth Theatre’s ENIGMA VARIATIONS (playing @ Arsenal Arts through April 27th) the principal character, a noted writer, complains that a work of art needs more than “flashes of brilliance.” Director Sarah Gazdowicz tries to increase the “light” by casting three actors to play the mercurial novelist—and another three to play the curious journalist who has come to interview him.
It’s a clever gambit: All the players appear on stage at the same time, creating soft ripples and reflections, as if a chard of mirror were amplifying the characters. Alas, despite the inspired iterations, ENIGMA VARIATIONS displays only momentary heat.
Jeremy Sams’ translation of Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s weighty play takes a long time to percolate (with ponderous speeches as if this were Ibsen) before it gathers the emotional momentum to fuel a meaningful ending. (Perhaps something was lost in translation?)
Until you trip to the reason for all the philosophical embroidery, you’re (at least I was) left wondering why all the meandering about art as “forgery of life” and love at its best as a long distance relationship and whether it’s possible to really know another person or not. It’s a lot of talk and practically no action, without much “variation” on the theme—and precious little connection, to boot, to Elgar’s famous orchestral divertimenti (referenced in the title).
I kept thinking it would work so much better as a novel—although I must admit that the last moment of the play is quite satisfying. My hat is off to Flat Earth for undertaking such a difficult and dense drama. Judging by what they bring to a script (like last year’s IRNE nominated PILLOWMAN) they’re a company to watch.