By Kyle Francis
The University of Calgary Department of Drama’s production of The Libertine is many things. It’s dark, it’s witty and it’s a lot of fun. It’s also grievously flawed. Directorial choices are clever, some of the performances are stirring and the dialogue is smart but all of its positive attributes are marred by a single poor choice in casting. This single bad judgement call is made worse because it’s the only major flaw the piece has. The Libertine’s faults don’t stop it from being a good performance but they do stop it from being excellent.
While it may fall short overall, the piece is excellent in places. Following the exploits of the second Earl of Rochester, John Wilmot, the script shines. The action follows Rochester as he imbibes any fluid available to him and has sex with anything lukewarm…ish. Brimming with wit, pathos and prostitutes, Stephen Jeffery’s writing is nothing short of brilliant.
The direction is also a strong point. Aesthetic choices such as set, costume, makeup and lighting are some of the finest seen anywhere in the Calgary theatre scene. Despite taking place in Restoration-era London, leather bell bottoms and a filthy wooden stage are used to lend the production a gritty feel only the use of real prostitutes could have improved. Despite a small number of set pieces, lighting is used efficaciously to establish the moody locales and represent the dark thoughts of the principal characters.
Director Kate Newby is able to elicit some fantastic performances from many of her actors. Josh Dalledonne and Ian Kilburn (playing Rochester and Charles II respectively) dominate any scene they’re in, moving effortlessly from moments of whimsy and charm to darkness and anger. Full of youthful energy, much of the supporting cast deserves similar commendation, though none can hold a candle to the nuclear furnace of charisma erupting whenever Dalledone and Kilburn share a scene. Unfortunately, an overly energetic performance on behalf of one of the supporting characters tarnishes the performance like syphilis ravaged Rochester’s life.
Devon Dubnyk, playing Charles Sackville, one of Rochester’s best friends, is to blame for most of The Libertine’s short-comings. Any moment when Dubnyk appears on stage things take a turn for the worse as the other actors seem to fear being upstaged by his cartoonish exuberance. The Sackville character is meant to serve as over-the-top excess but the sad truth is Dubnyk isn’t very good at it. Rather than an exciting character foil to Rochester, the audience gets a doofus who acts every scene like he’s a Japanese-animated schoolgirl. Oftentimes, one bad performance isn’t enough to corrupt an entire play but Dubnyk tragically appears in over 25 per cent of this one. He wouldn’t be so bad if the rest of the play was closer to the standard he performs at but because of the pristine acting from Dalledonne and Kilburn, Dubnyk’s lack of ability stands out like a hooker with teeth on 3rd Avenue.
A sad story is made more heartbreaking as the play verges on greatness so often. If Dubnyk would have been fired early enough to recast him or, at the very least, if his character was cut down to as few speaking lines as possible, The Libertine could have been a glowing success. Instead, it’s like one of the mediocre hookers it features. You’ll have a good time but it won’t be transcendent.