Fringe Review: Katharine
Produced by writer/director Logan Hillier and the English College in Prague (where Hillier is an instructor), Katharine tells the story of Katharine, a 22 year-old Sorbonne student who has retreated to the south of France to finish a sculpture that has languished for some time and is the barrier to completing both her degree and moving forward with her life. Settling into a renovated medieval mill in the woods in Provence, she attempts to wrestle with her inner demons through art. At the same location but in the year 1209, Lucien (also 22), who has been pursued for three days by dogs and soldiers of the French army (and blinded by a wound from an earlier battle), is abandoned by his brothers when they realize he can no longer keep up. That’s the set-up straight from the program notes. Without either reading the program notes or knowing the set-up you will be completely lost.
After some angst-ridden phone calls from an ex-boyfriend, many swigs from a whiskey bottle, some requisite crazed dancing alone in a room to signal her manic nature, and a few moments involving a knife and make-up that are meant to have great pathos and be highly dramatic but instead come across as embarrassing examples of teenage adolescent posturing, Katharine starts speaking to her unfinished Medusa sculpture and turns on a yellow light. Suddenly Lucien, after some fumbling about and much praying to God, is transported through time and space to the present day and into Katharine’s life. Of course they eventually fall in love, debate the meaning of life, etc. and are torn-apart just at the moment they might consummate their relationship.
The production features high school drama students, and no doubt the experience of performing in the Prague Fringe Festival with seasoned professionals from Europe and the US, will be a highlight of their high school memories. No doubt also there is some value in the Fringe being open to what is essentially a high school theatre production, to invite a wide-spectrum of opportunity and to support local amateur theatre work. Of some doubt however is the decision to use students in a production that involves material clearly beyond their years sexually, intellectually and philosophically. Hillier coaches what are good student performances from his two leads, given their life and stage experience, however you continually wonder what the performance would have been like had adult professional actors attempted to tackle this material.
The material is the real problem with the show. It touches on an interesting historical subject—Catharism, but gets continually bogged-down in artistic and philosophical musings that feel unfinished—like the first draft an idea rather than a play. The set-up is too extreme and its’ execution too unbelievable, the characters too far beyond the ability of the student actors, and the writing too unpolished to make this a Fringe must-see. However if you want to support young artists, a passionate writer/director, theatrical work-in-progress and the open-minded spirit of fringe than this may be the show for you. To be fair, I understand that Katharine is the middle act of a three-act play, and perhaps this experience will leave all participants better armed for a more complete production sometime in the future.
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