She’s Got A New Gig!

September 29, 2015 at 11:35 pm
Brenda Kamino

Photographer uncredited

Moderato Cantabile @ Factory Studio Theatre

August 7, 2015

by David Fujino

I recently saw Brenda Kamino in the play, Moderato Cantabile, at this year’s 25th anniversary SummerWorks festival.

What a (pleasure) it was to see a Nikkei actor in a role that’s usually given to an actor of European heritage. Brenda played the role of a piano teacher. Now, you might think, what’s the big deal? The race or nationality of an actor shouldn’t figure into who gets the job. Talent should be the basis of a hire, and I’d agree with you, but this is not exactly how it works in the theatre world.

Put simply, actors of colour are rarely considered for leading and speaking roles in most European, American, or Canadian plays (Shakespeare, Miller, Shaw, and Ibsen, to name just a few), and if you look at film, television, or the internet, actors of colour aren’t any more visible there, either. You don’t get to see that many of us on screens and the stage — but that’s the society we live in.

However, in the case of this first-time stage adaptation of the Marguerite Duras modernist novel, Moderato Cantabile, audiences got to see Brenda as a piano teacher and Tawiah McCarthy as Chauvin, an unemployed worker frequenting a local bar.

I’m assuming this casting all came about because the director, Cole Lewis was moved by the story about the rich Anne and poor Chauvin who, ultimately, are unable to join hands across the class barrier and achieve true freedom together; I’m further assuming this story served to ignite adaptor/director Lewis’s critical perception that just as things in society must change so must the depiction of people in theatre change?

And if we take these assumptions one step further, we can appreciate that just as longstanding myths about race, class, nationality, the set role of men and women, and the very notions of superior and inferior, must change in society, so should these changes appear in theatre, too.

On one level, we find in Cole Lewis’s dramatized story which spans one full week, that two would-be lovers from opposite sides of the class divide meet in a shabby café to progressively drink more glasses of red wine and, in somewhat banal terms, speculate upon why a man shot a woman dead in this very same café frequented by men and whores.

For Anne is bored and she wants to step out of her privileged humdrum life as the wife of a wealthy factory owner where her days consist of walks along the seashore and taking her son to his weekly piano lessons.

During her daily visits to the café, Anne eventually tells Chauvin about her wish to die because she’s ‘already dead’ — for his part, Chauvin, who was a previous employee of Anne’s husband, reveals that he’s considered taking on the role of a murderer. The double death wish embedded in the story is what fascinated this audience member.

And certainly the alternating narration from the other actors — Brenda Kamino the strict piano teacher, or Alexander Scodellaro acting out as a talented and undisciplined piano student, or Shira Leuchter as a threatening, all-seeing café worker — lent an air of objectivity to the play, but unfortunately on opening night, the hand-held microphone and the sound system failed miserably to let the actors be heard above the loud and scratchy jazz recording of Miles Davis playing, cyclically it seemed, So What? This was frustrating.

But to return to my original point: I’ve not been saying that Brenda was done a favour because she acted in Moderato Cantabile. What I’ve really been saying is that this stage veteran of over 30 years is a notable ‘exception to the rule’: She’s a working actor — which means Brenda both gets the work and she works at getting work. With her talent and a dedicated work ethic, and ‘some luck’ as they say in the theatre, Brenda Kamino has established an admirable career as a working stage actor.

For the record: Brenda’s an award-winning actress who runs Renaissance Theatre with Andrew Moodie, and together they’re working to give underappreciated Canadian scripts a second chance at life. Theatre goers may remember Brenda in the recent excellent production of HER-2 by Maja Ardal for Nightwood Theatre at Buddies in Bad Times theatre in January of this year. Well-known and respected among actors for her devotion to the stage, Brenda also wrote a national newsletter column for CAEA (Canadian Actors Equity Association) about diversity in the actor’s workplace for several years and she has been a long-time full member of Actra, the union for film, television, radio, recorded media and TV commercials.

There were some lovely touches on this opening night — aspects of Brenda`s personality, it seemed to me, were smartly brought to her portrayal of a 1950’s strict piano teacher; and the effective use of a sliding see-through plastic curtain to block out new areas for narration was an impressive contribution from the set designer (Reid Thompson) — but despite all these positives, the central conversations between Anne (Nicole St. Martin) and Chauvin (Tawiah McCarthy) could be tightened up in this play that somehow had the feeling of a work-in-progress.

Speaking about ‘work’, this finally brings me home to that old saying in the theatre, “You’re only as good as your last job.” This saying sets the bar rather high for all actors, but in the case of Moderato Cantabile, with an enlightened adaptor and director like Cole Lewis behind it, and two actors of colour on stage, Brenda Kamino and Tawiah McCarthy had an opportunity to do their true job, which is that of portraying a human being.

In the final analysis, Moderato Cantabile was decidedly more than another example of ‘colour blind casting’ — it was an example of casting, pure and simple. Amen.