Reviewed by Erin Murray
60 minutes | Physical, Solo | PG
Go see this play.
Seriously, whatever you are doing right now, stop doing it, and go see this play. It is incredible. Go see it.
The aerial choreography alone makes Sappho…in 9 Fragments stunning and the lush voice of Victoria Grove as Sappho is captivating beyond measure. The set design is simple, but highly effective, and the whole show is a visual delight.
Sappho, for those unfamiliar, was a female love poet of Ancient Greece. Most of her original poetry, which was greatly admired by her contemporaries, has been lost, and only a few fragments remain today. Still, her reputation has endured, and the holes in her story have been patched up with inference, speculation, and conjecture about her life. She has worn many labels (or rather, had many labels somewhat rudely forced upon her): teacher, lover, mother, raging lesbian, philosopher, artist, political dissident. Who she really was, how she really thought and felt, has been erased and re-written a dozen times.
How do you tell a story when there are so many gaps? In her exceptional play, writer Jane Montgomery Griffiths encourages us to come in close and see the real Sappho, the woman behind all the stories. The show opens with Sappho suspended in a nest made of rope and white cloth. As she unfurls from her cocoon and entwines herself around the ropes that make up her cave, Sappho chides us for having had the audacity to mortar up the gaps in her story with whatever we needed over the years. And although she is able to set the record straight (or not-so-straight, if you’ll pardon the pun) on some accounts, the story remains fragmented. There are some holes that refuse to be filled.
Throughout her skilled performance, Grove switches between the character of Sappho, alone with her thoughts and lamenting her erasure from written history, and the nervous and uncertain Atthis, a modern-day chorus girl being seduced by her very own Sapphic romance. The transitions are seamless, and Grove plays both characters with sincerity and depth. The audience is swept up in a whirl of emotion, from the trembling uncertainty of new love, to the heart-wrenching ruin and devastation of love unraveling. These are old themes, but good ones, and Sappho…in 9 Fragments manages to bring something new and unexpected to the canon of love stories.
Not only does Grove deliver a knockout performance, but she does so while swinging on ropes and bars, and sometimes hanging upside down in the tangle of ropes and fabric that serves as Sappho’s cave. The choreography is both polished and exciting — and for those of us who struggle to do one pull-up, quite impressive.
Director Jessica Ruano, an Ottawa native with many successful projects under her belt, has brilliantly brought together the perfect harmony of a well-written piece, powerful acting, beautiful choreography, and superior staging. This is really, really, just a beautiful and well-crafted piece of theatre. Go see it.
Disclaimer: The opening show for this performance was completely sold-out, so if you want to see it, you may want to get there early.
Sappho…in 9 Fragments by Jane Montgomery Griffiths is a production presented by Jer’s Vision Troupe de la Lune with Tenth Muse Theatre and is playing at the Arts Court Library (2 Daly Ave, Elevator A 2nd floor) on Sunday, June 23 at 12:00 noon; Monday, June 24 at 5:00 pm; Tuesday, June 25 at 8:00 pm; Wednesday, June 26 at 5:00 pm, and Saturday, June 29 at 3:30 pm. Tickets $10.