This year, the Arts and Humanities student council adds, The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza, directed by Julia Sebastien, to its list of captivating productions. The show, written by David Ives, is set in 1600s Amsterdam and picks up on Baruch de Spinoza in a moment of conflict; he has to convince a congregation that he still shares the same religious beliefs as everyone in his Jewish community. If Spinoza is not able to convince his community that his beliefs align with theirs, he risks excommunication. The play is filled with moments of drama, heartbreak, and incredibly intelligent humour.
The set and props are simple, allowing viewers to focus on the weight of the words being said. The words that Spinoza chooses will ultimately lead to a verdict that will determine his future. With this in mind, the props and set all draw attention to the importance of words and their speaker. For example, in the interrogation scene, a simple black chair is placed centre stage, which makes Spinoza and his case a consistent focal point. Viewers’ eyes can't help but fix on Spinoza as he sits down to make his case. In addition, a podium is set up for speakers to either refute or approve of Spinoza’s words, and the Torah ark sits at the back of the stage, a constant presence that illustrates the importance of Spinoza’s words to his Jewish community.
During the January 30th production, there was a bit of an issue with the lighting and the actors had to shift over to accommodate for the issue, but the cast and crew were adaptable and did not let the changes affect the quality of the performance. The lighting was fixed for the second act and audience members were able to witness the effective lighting style. The lighting, designed by Nolan Bechtel, is great in directing focus to significant moments, and even set pieces in the play. One of the lighting choices was the inclusion a spotlight on the Torah ark, which helps showcase its significance throughout the play. The most important lighting choice was to illuminate the house lights for the entirety of the production. The lighting turned the audience into members of the congregation. The weight of the decision of Spinoza’s verdict did not lie with those on stage. At some points, the actors looked directly at the audience or gestured towards them, further drawing them into the events of the play.
Instead of selecting costumes that reflect the 1600s, the choice was made to use modern dress with some historical reference. According to Sebastien, the choice was made “to ease immersion into this timeless tale of individualism and community,” a choice that certainly comes through as the production progresses. Costume director Kylie Sears carefully selected outfits that match each character’s personality to a high degree. There was a lot of detail into combining both the details mentioned in the play with the costumes worn.
The true highlight of this show was the incredible cast as they were able to express the complex content of the play in a compelling manner. As Spinoza, Aaron Fysh naturally draws viewers attention. Fysh is able to portray Spinoza in a way that expresses all facets of this witty and expressive character and even makes small gestures that help the audience understand the emotion that Spinoza is going through. Kevin Helsop, who played Rabbi Saul Levi Morteira, is also a standout performer as his voice, use of volume levels, and movement create a mesmeric affect. It is a pleasure to watch a cast that is so invested in their roles; it was a delight to watch the other characters reactions as the others spoke.
If you would like to see a play with intelligent humour and a truly convincing cast, The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza will capture your attention. There are four more chances to see the Arts and Humanities student council production at TAP Centre for Creativity. The show opened on January 30th and will close on February 2nd. Tickets are available online or at the box office. Please visit the following website for more details: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/david-ives-the-interrogation-of-baruch-de-spinoza-tickets-53360057368?fbclid=IwAR3tAzBF7lPusW2fhWwKRA1pKTbWILqavoEnyYfOpeqaCxVREg7QAdmSx9Y