Review: Fortune and Men’s Eyes (BirdLand Theatre)

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A visually stylized and stunning take on prison life in this Toronto theatre production of Fortune and Men’s Eyes

Written by John Herbert in 1967, Fortune and Men’s Eyes explores prison life’s brutality and degradation via Smitty (Julian DeZotti), a new naïve inmate, and his cellmates, Rocky (Cyrus Faird), Queenie (Alex Fiddes) and Mona (David Coomber) in a visually intriguing show.

This incarnation of Fortune and Men’s Eyes is highly stylized, both in performance and design. The scene directions are now dialogue, and the actors begin the show by introducing themselves and their roles. Much of the time the movement is very unnatural – for instance, there is a rape scene in the show, and while still remaining very brutal, it is presented very much like a dance. The fifth character – a prison guard – is collectively played by the cast, operating a large puppet made partially from a megaphone, which hangs from the ceiling.

The set is immediately impressive upon walking into the theatre. Besides the megaphone puppet, there are large rocks suspended on rope from the ceiling, defining the space. The cots are made of garbage bags and more rocks. There are also projections of the cast pre-show and thereafter of flying birds during the performance. This effect could have been overused, but I thought the projections were both simple and effective.

The performances are mixed, with David Coomber as Mona standing above the rest. Mona’s compassion for Smitty, as well as the wide range of emotions Mona experiences, is completely fascinating. I also loved Mona’s Shakespearean performance – it was exactly what an inexperienced actor such as Mona would do with a classic text.

Running at 90 minutes without an intermission, Fortune and Men’s Eyes drags slightly in the middle. While interesting, I don’t know if the stylized performances and set served the story, as I left the theatre unsure of what the show was trying to say. Certainly themes of imprisonment, homosexuality, and brutality were explored, but what conclusion is drawn? What was the point?

Fortune and Men’s Eyes is stunning, both visually and emotionally. In the end, though, the many good elements of the play don’t quite add up to a satisfying conclusion.

Details:

Photo of David Coomber, Alex Fiddes, Cyrus Faird, and Julian DeZotti by Guntar Kravis.

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