Transit Of Venus

Stars shine on Venus
By COLIN MacLEAN
Edmonton Sun


EDMONTON - Transit of Venus maps that area of human endeavour that lies between heart and mind. Winnipeg playwright Maureen Hunter has written an eloquent elegy for five actors that asks us to contemplate some very profound questions.

Hunter's story is based on real events in the life of Guillaume Le Gentil, a gentleman astronomer who travelled the world so he could calculate the movements of the heavens by calibrating the transit of Venus across the sun. Hunter has it that in following his obsession he sacrificed any hope of real happiness.

The three acts of the long but involving play follow the same arc - a dramatic set up for the appearance of Gentil (David Ley). In Act 1, we meet the people who will impact on his life, - as much as this completely self-absorbed man will allow any person to influence him. His long-suffering assistant Demarais (Christopher Bullough), his mother (Barbara Reese), her godfearing housekeeper Margot (Coralie Cairns), who was at one-time his lover, and her daughter Celeste (Tara Hughes), a willful, impulsive 15-year-old who has captured the heart of her master.

He is 35 years old, a failed priest who now looks for the face of God in the heavens.

Gentil promises to return to Celeste and she reluctantly agrees to wait. He is gone for six years. He returns in Act 2 to marry her but having missed the Transit, is about to leave again. Again he promises to come back but disappears.

Ideas, concepts and emotions twinkle like the stars in David Lovett's handsome, monolithic set. Hunter doesn't let us get too close to her characters but we know them and understand their needs and what drives them. The playwright is in no hurry and slowly reveals her views on a society that put little emphasis on women's needs, what love means in the face of the quest of knowledge, the universe and our place in it.

All of this sounds a little lofty but it's not. Hunter's dialogue, and some of her character's attitudes, are modern but they sit easily on the play's historical base. The play is filled with gentle humour. Johnna Wright's subtle, intelligent direction illuminates the text while drawing vigorous, sympathetic performances from her actors. The concepts may reach for the stars but the players are remarkably grounded.

Barbara Reese is a warm, no-nonsense Madame Sylvie who has carried on a life-long battle with her maker. Christopher Bullough's Demarais goes from idealizing his employer to a growing realization that he will "disappoint" all those who love him. Coralie Cairns's patient and pragmatic Margot is the kind of understated performance that sometimes gets lost because she makes it look so easy. David Ley, with his soft cadences and charismatic presence is indeed a man who "lights a fire in everyone he meets." He almost makes Gentil's self-absorption a noble quest until his callous disregard brings his world down about his head.

Tara Hughes is an immensely appealing and inventive actress. She performs Hunter's words with impeccable diction and a wide range of subtle emotion. Her young Celeste is every headstrong teenager you've ever met and she matures with impressive skill. It is a terrific performance.

Transit of Venus is often wordy and the audience knows what is coming long before the characters. Particularly in the last act, you can see the dramatist at work as she tries to put off the resolution that a few simple words from one of the characters would bring on.

Transit of Venus - a co-production of Studio Theatre and Workshop running at the Timm's Centre through Oct. 9 - is a work that takes on cosmic themes and effectively reduces them to simple, accessible emotions.

Vue Weekly
Paul Matwychuk
(excerpted)

“I Shall Always Remember Tara”

Tara Hughes, who plays Celeste, gives quite a remarkable performance, effortlessly handling the role’s many challenges: she wears the period costumes beautiful, she ages convincingly from a precocious teenager to a prematurely stoic woman; and, most importantly, she conveys Celeste’s complicated mixture of intellectual curiosity, frustration, candour and unreasoning love. When Celeste, who has done a spectacular job of educating herself about the world and the universe all on her own, and now faces the prospect of spending another three years alone in that house while Le Gentil embarks on another expedition, cries out, “My life is an oddyssy, too. Why must it be played out on such a tiny map?” the sense you get of wasted opportunity and stifled ambition is absolutely heartbreaking.