A Tale of Love and Artistry at Vancouver Civic Theatres’ Annex (Review)

There’s something thrilling about witnessing the unfolding of a love story, especially a tragic one, on stage.

A play is underway at the Vancouver Civic Theatres’ Annex that is sure to have you caught up in the complex negotiations of a difficult relationship, all set to haunting violin music.

Delinquent Theatre’s Never the Last runs until April 20, 2019, at Vancouver Civic Theatres’ Annex (823 Seymour Street) and is part of the SeeMore Theatre series, a new residency program that provides a “performance and technical space to participating companies.”

The play is based on the life of Sophie-Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatté (played by Christine Quintana), who was born in Russia in 1899 and is known for her composed symphonies and concertos, as well as her playing as a violinist and pianist. There’s also a Canadian connection since the artist immigrated to Canada in 1950.

The play centres on her turbulent relationship with Walter Gramatté (played by Anton Lipovetsky), an impressionist painter who she quickly forms an intense connection with in Berlin and eventually marries, with some reluctance on her part. Together, they experience the headiness of initial romance, along with the difficulties of poverty, creative blocks, and the marginal social positions of artists devoted full-time to their craft.

Director Laura McLean and choreographer Kayla Dunbar wonderfully use the space of the stage, as well as props like chairs, an easel, and a music stand in order to capture the fluctuations of their love, as well as the physical travelling the couple had to do in order to find work. Together, over the course of ten years, they travel to four different cities, battling their personal artistic demons, as well as each other. Tragedy awaits but before then is much passion, creativity, and conflict.

Quintana does a good job of capturing the overflowing artistic energy and, most interestingly, Eckhardt-Gramatté’s musings on the difficulties of being an independent woman pursuing an unconventional career in her time period. Her wearing of pants on stage visually emphasizes her position in relation to her society.

Image of Christine Quintana as the Creator/Sophie, courtesy of the artist

Lipovetsky puts in a particularly noteworthy performance, breathing life into Gramatté as the masculine oppositional force in Eckhardt-Gramatté’s life. There is a realness to him on stage, a believability in terms of Gramatté’s feelings for the musician and his frustrations over the unstable life they lead together. He effectively shows Gramatté as both an obstacle as well as a catalyst to his wife’s artistry.

Image of Anton Lipovetsky as Walter by Emily Cooper

One of the strongest components of the play is the ongoing musical accompaniment of Eckhardt-Gramatté’s solo violin works. Molly MacKinnon, who co-created the play with Quintana and is a professional violinist, appears throughout the scenes, providing the background music, as well as serving as a palpable and sometimes disruptive presence. The music is, ultimately, the third character in the narrative. Projected images add to the multimedia aspects of the production.

Image of Molly MacKinnon as the Creator/Violinist by Christine Quintana

Overall, this is a play that relies on the intimacy between two early twentieth-century artists who managed to be extraordinarily productive despite considerable societal and economic adversity. Never the Last pays tribute to an inspiring female musician with a nuanced, hybrid performance.

Further info and tickets can be found on-line.

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