Review: Maestro’s frenetic beat fails to reach comic climax

Serge Maquette and David Whiteley cross comic swords in Maestro now playing in French and English at The Gladstone. Photo: Jessica Ruano

Has something been lost in translation?

Touted as a hilarious comedy about the off-stage shenanigans of musicians, classical and otherwise, Maestro by Québec playwright Claude Montminy opened Friday at the Gladstone in its English-language premiere. The play is running in both official languages and opened in French a day earlier.

Perhaps the show skims smartly along in its original French (I saw it only in Nina Lauren and Danielle Ellen’s English translation), but Friday’s opening had the buoyancy of a tuba.

Played out against a thoughtfully naturalistic set by David Magladry, who also designed the lighting, the show finds a trio of characters vying for ego gratification, career advancement and various other forms of self-satisfaction.

Maude (Manon Lafrenière) is an excitable violinist with the National Arts Centre Orchestra. By turns spiky and sycophantic, she hungers for the job of concertmaster. To that end, she’s invited the orchestra’s new Hungarian conductor, the egocentric, germaphobic and perpetually randy Zoltàn (Serge Paquette), home for dinner in hopes of currying his favour. The third corner of the ungainly triangle is Ryan (David Whiteley), Maude’s estranged husband. A would-be famous composer who makes a living scoring commercials and porn films, he’s grown tired of Maude’s workaholic ways and has been briefly living on his own. But he still longs for her company, finds an excuse to come calling and, uninvited, sticks around for the evening.

If all this sounds like the set-up for any one of countless television sit-coms you’ve sat through simply because you had nothing better to do, you’d be right.

Maude serves up a dinner of squab for her guest and herself – though neither actually touches the food, which may or may not be funny – and presents a slice of processed cheese to Ryan. Zoltàn, both a boor and a bore, repeatedly swishes the high-priced wine in his mouth and spits it back out into a glass. Ryan, severely disconcerted (among other things, that wine was part of his treasured cellar), keeps his feelings about all this to himself because he still loves Maude and wants her to succeed in her ambitions.

The leaden tale continues well into the evening. There are jokes about Zoltàn’s germaphobia. Maude changes into a clingy dress. Ryan, having learned that Zoltàn wants new music to perform, attempts to ingratiate himself with the guy who’s trying to bed his wife.

In the end, the three come to their senses — sort of — and life carries on.

The characters do deepen and their relationships grow more complex over the course of the show. Pretension is pricked and the politics of power – including our willingness to forego pride and even humiliate ourselves in the pursuit of dubious goals – are given an airing. The three actors work hard. Heck, there are even a couple of funny scenes.

But none of that compensates for the stilted dialogue, the punch lines you can see coming a mile away or director Gilles Provost’s odd propensity for encouraging his actors to shout when they could simply speak and, especially in the early going, move about frenetically when holding still might allow them to focus more on verbal humour.

Bottom line: Maestro is less than masterly.

Maestro is a Plosive Productions show. It was reviewed Friday. At the Gladstone Theatre until June 10. Tickets:

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Patrick Langston covered English professional theatre for the Ottawa Citizen from 2008 to 2016. He also wrote about music, travel, the local housing industry and other subjects for the paper. Patrick continues to contribute to Ottawa Magazine, Diplomat and International Canada Magazine, and other publications.