At face value, McGill’s student-run theatre company Tuesday Night Café (TNC) has the makings of quality independent theatre. The TNC stage is charming and intimate, nestled beneath the gorgeous—yet often overlooked—Islamic Studies Library. TNC is small, but puts on five productions per year, allowing for the constant introduction of new and innovative material. As such, It was all the more disappointing, then, that TNC’s production of When Five Years Pass failed to deliver the experimentalism or comedy for which the original play is famous.
Written in 1931 by Spanish playwright Federico Garcia Lorca, When Five Years Pass is often described as an “impossible comedy.” The play follows a man who must wait five years to marry his fiancé, only to be abandoned by her the evening before his wedding. Influenced by his surrealist friends, such as Salvador Dali, Lorca’s play explores the past, present, and future as intermingling forces.
When it was released, When Five Years Pass was praised as a ground-breaking and original work. TNC’s production did not follow the original’s guiding experimental philosophy. Directed by Anna Lytvynova, the play fumbled through its philosophical musings, substituting substance with recycled avant-garde tropes.
“[The play blends] together issues of gender, love, identity, and the human body in a world of dismantled and non-linear time,” TNC’s advertisements proclaimed. Perhaps this is the production’s core flaw: It is guided by vague philosophical buzzwords, but is ultimately unable to present an ideology or framework with which to approach these issues.
“If we are not constrained by a linear narrative or a sequential temporality, we can explore more in terms of theme,” Director Lytvynova explained. What these themes are is never quite clear.
These confusing intentions were abetted by the excess of theatre clichés, which not only made for an aesthetically off-putting production, but also hindered the play’s attempts at originality. Almost all of the actors were dressed entirely in black with white face paint, as if straight from a French theatre parody. Without a hint of irony or self-awareness, Pink Floyd’s “Time” was chosen to mark the intermission.
Despite these poor artistic choices, When Five Years Pass had the benefit of an enchanting set, designed by Darah Miah. It was this aesthetic—weird and distinct, yet not taking itself too seriously—that the play should have followed on all fronts.The furniture was minimal with a whimsical seafoam green palette. Cream-coloured fans framed the stage, made from old book pages.
To explore the fluidity of time and body, When Five Years Pass features actors cast in multiple roles. Some performers were up for the challenge: Derin Hotamisligil’s command of voice and movement created three separate but equally engaging performances as a dead child, father and harlequin. On par with Hotamisligil was Yevgen Kravchenko, who mastered both a football player’s confident stride and a clown’s whimsical saunter. Despite these strong performances, the multi-casting inhibited the relationships between actors on stage – performers fell victim to broad character portrayals, and neglected to connect with one another. Ryan Mernin’s Young Man and Sarah Mitchell’s Girlfriend are the play’s central relationship, as the Young Man struggles to cope with his breakup. However, the hilariously cruel irony of a broken five-year engagement was lost as the actors attempted to out-scream each other, neglecting intimacy, resentment, relying instead on volume.
When Five Years Pass is an ambitious undertaking—which is to be commended—yet, it was the production’s inability to commit to such aspiration that led to its undoing. While the cast and crew are undeniably talented, had the production focused on this raw ability, rather than borrowed gimmicks, they could have presented a genuine exploration of love and time. Instead, When Five Years Pass felt like a little girl trying on her mother’s high heels—not the right fit.
When Five Years Pass is playing Feb. 22-25 at 8 p.m. in Morris Hall, 3485 Rue McTavish in the Islamic Studies Building. Tickets are $6 for students and seniors, and $10 general admission.