2012 Toronto Fringe Festival: Piecing Together Pauline

A charming drama about the life of a 19th century opera singer

Presented by Fire and Air Productions
Written, Directed & Produced by Chris Coculuzzi & Roxanne Deans

Kristen Zaza (left) as Pauline and Elva Mai Hoover (right) as Madame Viardot. Photo credit: Kathy Plamondon.

A dark-haired young woman with a serious, pensive gaze is the audience's first glimpse of Pauline Garcia Viardot, staring out from a portrait. Although the Spanish opera singer was unconventionally attractive by mid 19th-century standards, her character and her talent had men falling constantly at her feet. In Piecing Together Pauline, now playing at Tarragon Theatre Mainspace as part of this year's Toronto Fringe Festival, memories of the singer's life are recounted in three parts, from the romanticized, heartbreaking perspective of the aging singer in her final hours. From a life filled with defining moments, Pauline attempts, in vain, to determine what her most important role was.

In the opening scene, young Pauline Garcia (Kristen Zaza) speaks with conviction to her close friend and confidante Ary Scheffer (Chris Irving) about her goals and career. Immediately, her strength and intellect are clear in how she speaks and carries herself, and near the end of their conversation, Ary admits matter-of-factly that he is in love with her, which is a common theme in Pauline's life.

Shortly after young Pauline appears on stage, the audience is treated to a much older Pauline (played to perfection by Elva Mai Hoover) who has recently discovered she has only days to live. Sitting on a Victorian couch on the right side of the stage, Pauline, or rather Madame Viardot as she is now known, looks back on her life with both sadness and joy. On the left side of the stage, the audience witnesses the events in Pauline's life through the eyes of the young, vibrant singer as she loses her famous sister, makes her operatic debut, marries the much older Louis Viardot (Rob Candy), and becomes a mother.

As young Pauline refers to the various people in her life that have influenced her, namely her father (Steve Switzman) who died when she was young, these characters appear in doorway frames behind her. This technique allows the audience to experience firsthand what has impacted Pauline most poignantly, and is a very effective component of this production. As the elderly Pauline gets closer to the end of her life, ghostly figures from her past appear to her with comforting words, reassuring her that she is a “splendid woman” who has led a very important life.

Throughout the production, a number of personalities come into Pauline's life that change her way of thinking, and generally influence the way she lives her life. One particular highlight of the performance is the tuxedo-clad Baroness George (Brenda Somers), who lights up the stage with her beautiful language and constant support of Pauline, bringing a great deal of joy into the singer's life. Elva Mai Hoover is an excellent elderly Pauline, breaking our hearts with her despair at both her own mortality and the deaths of those she loves. Piecing Together Pauline is rounded out by a beautifully written script and excellent use of lighting, as well as a “cameo” by one of Pauline's contemporaries, the very entertaining Chopin (Scott McCulloch).

Piecing Together Pauline runs until July 15 at the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace. Visit fringetoronto.com for a full schedule and to buy tickets.

Show Dates: 
Fri, 2012-07-06 - Sun, 2012-07-15
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