Review: Of Human Bondage: A Finely Woven Tapestry from SoulpepperNYC3 min read

Soulpepper, Of Human Design
Gregory Prest, Sarah Wilson, Raquel Duffy, Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, Jeff Lillico. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann

Of Human Bondage: A Finely Woven Tapestry from SoulpepperNYC

by Ross

Addiction, obsession, and desire are weaved intimately together in Soulpepper’s newest production that has opened at the Pershing Square Signature Center.  Of Human Bondage, written by Vern Thiessen based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham, is a deeply rewarding piece of theatrical art making. It has been crafted in the same grand scale as needed to create a Persian rug made of finely woven threads of glorious shades and textures. Each fiber representing moments of pleasure but also, quite strikingly, there are those made from pain and hurt. Bad choices are equal to good ones, in the creation of a life, and combined, these various strands create a beauty and an art of the sublime. Only later, life gives us the moment to stand back and see all of the distractions, pit-falls, and obsessions, combined with all the good fortunes and loyal friendships that can create a tapestry that is worthy of a life lived.


Soulpepper, Of Human Design
Oliver Dennis, Gregory Prest. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann

In a note from the director, Albert Schultz writes about creating two aesthetic challenges in creating this wonderful piece of theatre. In collaboration with the design team (Lorenzo Savoini/set and lighting; Erika Connor/costumes; Mike Ross/composer and sound designer), these artists found ways to expand and simplify this compelling story. For one, they created a symbolic cage for Philip Carey (intensely portrayed by Gregory Prest) to live his life in. A sixteen foot square of blood red floor that he can never leave, trapping him inside himself and his decisions.  The book tells a life story that is much more expansive than this small chapter of his adult life, but here he slowly weaves his way through within this small space and moment of time, which is his self-created confinement.  The other unique and surprisingly clever challenge set forth to the actors of this fantastic ensemble, is that any sound (vocal, musical, or atmospheric) must be made by the eleven that inhabit and remain on stage.  From the first moments of the the flute’s delicate and sad tones and the echoing and eerie sounds from the numerous bows playing the bass violin, the theater is filled with the most astounding soundscape. The use of created sounds is particularly astounding, especially in moments that aren’t necessarily demanding of these environmental additions. Together, they expand the experience of so many singular moments, like the cacophony of sounds encountered as they navigate the streets of London circa 1900’s, to the clanking and chattering inside a tea shop.  These intricate sounds, like the thud of Carey’s limp, and the wave’s lapping at water’s edge, are like fine golden threads snuck into a fabric’s creation to give it a shimmer that is barely identifiable, but takes something already beautiful into the sublime. (for the full review, click here)

Soulpepper, Of Human Design
Gregory Prest, Michelle Monteith. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann
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