Drawing together Antonio Vivaldi and an unnamed French noblewoman he must teach to play the violin in just six-weeks, The Red Priest (Eight Ways To Say Goodbye) is a slow-burn. It took me a while to invest in Mieko Ouchi’s two-hander; when the charms of the Guild Festival Theatre’s production finally took hold, though, its grip was firm.
At first, neither character is particularly likeable or compelling. Vivaldi (David Whiteley) seems bombastic and pretentious. When he finally meets The Woman (Sierra Haynes), he’s desperate for employment and overly ingratiating. Her aristocratic air seems dubious and affected. As the music lessons progress and their defences drop, we discover the vulnerability that lies just under their overly mannered facades.
Though having become poor, he is still well known for his compositions—particularly The Four Seasons. In an early moment of authenticity, he confesses to her that he doesn’t put much stock in that work’s popularity, preferring his earlier operas. This admission pays off powerfully in a later scene. As her situation is revealed, we understand her own motivations for continuing their mutually frustrating violin lessons. Her prominent husband’s wager remains the official goal, but her true desires run much deeper.
Though rather insufferable in their separate spheres, once they transcend the transactional aspect of their relationship, I warmed to them both. They eventually come to recognize a shared loneliness and dissatisfaction. By the end, as Vivaldi and The Woman find common ground, Haynes and Whiteley, in turn, really charmed me.
Director Helen Juvonen finds some lovely poetry in stylized movements between the two. Their mirrored posture during lessons is intimate and quietly stirring. Wasifa Noshin’s production design—elegant period attire and golden draperies—is understated yet evocative. There are moments in Sean Meldrum’s sound design where the integration of Vivaldi’s melodies into the dialogue feels like punctuation.
In the early scenes the music does overpower the actor’s voices, but the irregular mix may be have been an attempt to compensate for the distracting music coming from a nearby wedding party.
Both Whiteley and Haynes are musicians themselves and the performance includes some live renditions of Vivaldi. The finale’s duet in particular is a delight. The Red Priest captures the revelatory power of music. And violins on a summer evening are a balm for the soul.