With the events of the last few years (actually, maybe decades) it’s easy to see how Maltese politics is the perfect starting point for a playwright. The real-life news splashed across our screens every day is already rife with drama, larger-than-life personalities and more scandal than we really know what to do with. All that in mind, it’s not difficult to see where writer John Baraldi drew his inspiration when writing Apotheosis.
Set within the intimate atmosphere of the theatre at St James Cavalier, the production takes a trip through the life, times and career of a fictional Maltese politician named Dolores Boniface. Within the context of the show, Dolores has achieved what no other woman in Malta has achieved thus far, and risen to the rank of Prime Minister.
Though I appreciate Mr Baraldi’s efforts in exploring the role of women in the local sphere, I have to wonder if this vehicle would have been more useful in examining the island’s future and changing political landscape, rather than concocting an alternate history in which nothing seems to have really changed. The play does a good job in showcasing Malta’s mercurial and corrupt political climate over the years – but is that any sort of a revelation to anyone who’s picked up a newspaper in their lives?
A spitfire of the political sphere in this fictionalised version of Malta, Boniface is the sole character inhabiting the stage throughout the play. Confined to a wheelchair, and with all the complications that entails, this role marks an impressive return to centre stage for Angele Galea. Despite what is clearly an incredibly challenging role, she still managed to tear her way through even the heaviest parts of the script.
Though the dialogue leaned a touch towards the side of the melodramatic, I still found seeds of truth in it – bestowed by years of heated election-time debates, as well as by Galea’s nuanced and genuine performance.
Not unlike Schaffer’s Salieri, Boniface sees her end coming, and is determined to set the record of her life straight – with a little help from director Marc Cabourdin, of course. The audience serves as her confessor as she navigates the winding pathways of her experience to set her final plans into motion. Being the only character on stage for the entire performance, as well as lacking the freedom to move around with ease, this role must have presented an intense challenge to Galea. However, I felt that she carried her audience well, even through some of the play’s choppier pacing. For one thing, I’m not sure that the decision to keep her seated through the entire production paid off enough to justify sacrificing some more dynamic staging and blocking.
In pairing the play with Arvo Part’s beautiful classical pieces Lamentate and Vater Unser, Apotheosis succeeds in lending itself a little more gravitas as it navigates Malta’s changing times. The music provided a much-needed breather for Galea between scenes, as well as serving to bookend the various chapters of Boniface’s life. Although I enjoyed these episodes, I do wish the production had not chosen to spoon-feed each section’s themes to the audience via on-screen text during the interludes. While I can understand the writer and director’s wishes for clarity, I don’t think this somewhat heavy-handed approach was the best way to achieve it.
“Cometh the hour, cometh the woman,” professes the play, and yet – did she? The highs and lows of Boniface’s career leave her the embittered woman that we see through most of the play. But in this alternate version of Maltese history, what did our first female prime minister really change? Perhaps this is the author’s intention in itself, to show that the island’s vicious political machine will chew up even those with the strongest resolve. Whatever the case, both the real and the fictional Malta seem to be the same as they always have.
Though Apotheosis benefits from a strong performance and an interesting concept, ultimately I don’t feel like it ever quite hits its stride.
Hampered by a meandering script and somewhat choppy structure, I just don’t feel like this one gets my vote.
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