“We cannot go on living like this.” – Helen
For the first time in many years, Belfry Theatre has opened up its smaller studio space to its own programming: “Helen’s Necklace” by Carole Fréchette. It is a quiet, intimate production, thoughtfully presented. At times, though, it does not quite leave the shallow end.
Fréchette wrote “Helen’s Necklace” (translated from the original French by John Murrell) after spending some time in Lebanon. A one-act play, the action takes place during a lengthy cab ride with many stops. Helen (Tracey Moore) searches for her lost necklace, made of cheap plastic but of immense personal value, in a nameless Arab country. She comes across many locals, all played by the same actor (Lee Majdoub). Helen’s Western values meet the troubled reactions of a war-torn country. As Helen comes to accept her loss, she is — in a way — found.
Tracey Moore as Helen shows courage in displaying unattractive self-regard. She almost does a number of face-plants as she pursues her mission. Demurely she reins herself in, trying to conceal her need to find the necklace. As her character’s arc moves from self-interest to self-forgetting, Moore displays glimpses of Helen’s humanity; however, I could not help but feel as if Moore’s characterization stopped short of the deep end. The transformation would have been more radical, and affecting, had it plunged into sadness and compassion rather than wading in part of the way. I suspect that, as the play continues its run, Moore will bring Helen to the depths she requires (and craves).
Lee Majdoub performs all of the other roles in the play: Nabil the taxi driver, Foreman, Woman, Man and Vagrant. Majdoub is the emotional centre. Director James Fagan Tait wisely directs Majdoub to avoid pyrotechnics in each characterization. Instead, the characters are variations on a theme, the same face linking their common humanity. At times, Majdoub’s waters run quite deep.
Carole Klemm created a wonderful minimalist set. A square, raised platform of stony appearance sits in the centre of the stage. It is adorned with Middle-Eastern motifs, and features a lonely barred window at ground level. The effect is mysterious and somewhat sinister. A painted backdrop of blue sky and wispy clouds frames Helen as she sits in the lone wooden chair on top. The ironic invocation is that of statues of Our Lady in countless naves. Bryan Kenney’s lighting design subtly accents Helen’s distance from, or intimacy to, the characters she meets.
Helen’s Necklace by Carole Fréchette
Directed by James Fagan Tait
Cast: Lee Majdoub (Nabil and others), Tracey Moore (Helen)
Set Design by Carole Klemm
Costume Design by Erin Macklem
Lighting Design by Bryan Kenney
Sound Design by Michael Rinaldi
Stage Manager: Sandra McEwing
Running Time: 65 minutes
Helen’s Necklace runs at The Belfry Wednesday to Saturday at 8pm, Saturday at 4pm and Sunday at 2pm until March 3. Tickets at belfry.bc.ca or 250-385-6815.
Review by Brent Schaus