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Gdańsk Shakespeare Theatre, Gdańsk

Be careful what you wish for. If you have ever looked for, or at least dreamed about, that one ideal person to spend the rest of your life with, Ruby is the perfect play to go to. This bittersweet comedy based on Zoe Kazan’s screenplay can be seen as a modern take on the story of Pygmalion. However, instead of a sculptor falling in love with his creation and bringing her to life, we’re given Calvin (Mateusz Banasiuk) a lonely, novelist suffering from writer’s block who invents a quirky female character Ruby (Maja Bohosiewicz). Then, one day, his creation magically appears out of thin air and walks straight into his kitchen, and ultimately into his heart. Gradually Calvin starts to change and “improve” Ruby by continuing to write about her. He wants to have a perfect version of her just for himself which in itself prompts questions about the meaning of ideal love, freedom and relationships.

We first meet Calvin in his psychotherapist’s office which, as it transpires, turns into his flat. The stage space is quite small and claustrophobic which fits the neurotic and slightly paranoid personality of the main character as he locks himself away from the outside world. One of director Adam Sajnuk’s, most arresting ideas is the constant presence of all the actors in front of the audience. When they are not part of the scene taking place, they are seated next to the stage. Such a solution emphasizes Calvin’s isolation and solitude. It can also suggest that the whole story might conceivably be a figment of his overly active imagination.

Mateusz Banasiuk, unfortunately, is not entirely convincing as Calvin especially in the opening scenes of the play. Here, in an uneven performance, Banasiuk tries too hard to portray Calvin as immature and neurotic and so ends up appearing mannered. Nevertheless, he does manage to relax and charm both Ruby and the audience in a few scenes. He especially likable and endearing when he realizes that his imaginary girl is in fact real. Regrettably though, Maja Bohosiewicz as Ruby does not dazzle either. Her performance is oddly subdued and therefore a trifle too bland for my taste. Surely Calvin’s deal woman should be more vibrant and edgy considering the whirlwind of emotions that are superimposed on her by Calvin. Ruby treads a precarious tightrope, balancing between extreme happiness, depression, anger and loneliness. Maja Bohosiewicz struggles to be convincing with these emotions, and her interpretation resort to clichéd stereotypes. However, I think that both Bohosiewicz and Banasiuk should be praised for their performance in the last scene of the play in which Calvin humiliates Ruby. He forces her to bark or repeatedly shout “You are a genius” by simply typing commands on the computer. The scene, for both actors and the audience, is emotionally draining and, therefore, extremely powerful. He tries to keep her close while she tries hard to stop just being a male vision of the ideal woman and break free, which does eventually happen. It is especially heartbreaking to see Banasiuk finally letting go of the woman of his dreams.

Bohosiewicz and Banasiuk are well-supported by the minor characters whose performances at times outshine the leading players’. Sonia Bohosiewicz is brilliant and extremely amusing as Fischer, Calvin’s lesbian sister. Her character may seem a touch stereotypical, yet it is highly entertaining. Every time she storms on the stage, she sends the audience into fits of giggles. While Sławomira Łozińska and Edyta Olszówka as the mother and psychotherapist manage to be engaging despite having little material to work with.

Sajnuk’s Ruby certainly presents an interesting take on relationships. By deftly deconstructing all the naïve, preconceived notions about ideal love, it succeeds in tearing apart the unrealistic male fantasy of the manic pixie dream girl by bringing the cliché to life. Sajnuk seems to emphasize the difference between being in love and loving another person. There is a grain of truth in the old saying “if you love somebody, set them free.”

  • Comedy
  • By Zoe Kazan
  • Directed and adapted by: Adam Sajnuk (based on the film Ruby Sparks)
  • Production: : Teatr WARSawy
  • Cast: Mateusz Banasiuk, Maja Bohosiewicz, Sonia Bohosiewicz, Sławomira Łozińska, Edyta Olszówka
  • Gdańsk Shakespeare Theatre, Gdańsk
  • 23 November 2015
  • Review by Aleksandra Kotapska
  • 1 December 2015

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