Never the Last's storytelling weaves seamlessly with violin music in a love letter to fine art

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      By Christine Quintana and Molly MacKinnon. Directed by Laura McLean. A Delinquent Theatre production. At the Annex on Wednesday, April 10. Continues until April 20

      While Vancouver has no shortage of live theatre and live music, it is all too rare to see an event that incorporates both into a single performance. Delinquent Theatre’s Never the Last is such an undertaking, pairing the versatile violin with an original script. Based on the relationship between real life composer Sophie Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatté and painter husband Walter Gramatté, does the combination ring true, or fail to strike a chord?

      The play is staged in the stunning Annex, where Jennifer Stewart’s set design provides a suitably abstract backdrop for Joel Grinke’s projections. The performance opens with a solo from violinist Molly MacKinnon, whose melodies grace the stage for virtually the entire play.

      The story begins in earnest when struggling composer named Sonia (Christine Quintana), Sophie’s self-given nickname in the play, is seen admiring a painting at an art gallery. Soft-spoken Walter (based on the real artist Walter Gramatté and played by Anton Lipovetsky), strikes up a conversation about the portrait with the uptight Sonia, and quaint banter ensues. Quintana and Lipovetsky have tremendous chemistry on-stage, best exemplified when their conversation leads them back to Sonia's unfurnished apartment, and troubled pasts come bubbling up to the surface—one cannot help but feel for Walter as he struggles to open up about his time as a soldier. After a bit of convincing, Walter finally manages to win over Sonia, and the two later wed.

      Yet, this is only the beginning of their tale. A series of financial setbacks sees the couple move everywhere from Berlin to Barcelona, with their love blossoming despite the hardships. This is lovingly represented through a fantastically choreographed montage sequence involving projections. Here, even the sound of actors dragging chairs across the stage has a musical rhythm—an incredible level of detail that only adds to the musical feel of the performance. Alas, after seemingly endless trials and tribulations, Sonia is forced to make a choice between the two loves of her life: Walter and music.

      Music is just as much a character as Sonia and Walter. The violin plays a role every step of the way, accentuating every high and low, yet never takes away from the superb acting. MacKinnon’s mastery of her instrument is astounding to watch, especially as the show begins to take on a more solemn tone towards its end, with the final few caprices communicating what words never could. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the movement/dance sections, which feel overly drawn out, and perhaps too ambitious for the actors’ physicality.

      Never the Last is a love letter to fine art, staged with great reverence to the original music and the woman who inspired it. Touching and nostalgic, Laura McLean’s production offers storytelling and music at its finest.