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By Delphine Nicholls

Imagine an epidemic hit the entire country and people were dying all around you. What would you do? Would you feel sorry for yourself? Would you hide? Would you steal from the dead? Red Noses, the Ryerson Theatre School’s current production, shows how the citizens of 1348 Auxerre, France cope with the Black Plague.

The piece follows a monk, Father Flote (Matthew Gorman), who is summoned by God to bring laughter to the town in a time of desperation. He brings together a troupe of unlikely clowns, namely a nun, a mute and a blind man, to name a few.

The Peter Barnes play is about coming together in times of hardship. The show is peppered with play-on-words, singing and innuendos. The theatre school hired Holmes, an acclaimed director, to work with the students to enhance the final phase of their education.

“The only challenge about working with students is the size of the class; there’s 29 of them,” she says. No matter what, she makes a point of giving each student some one-on-one time. “After all, it’s about them.”

Actor Anousha Alamian is thrilled to work with Holmes. “She understands farce well. We’re very fortunate to work with her at this time of her career.” Echoing the students’ praise, city blog Torontoist.com rates Holmes, “the hottest director in town right now.” Across town at The Factory Theatre, another one of her plays, Trout Stanley, just got a week’s extension.

Watching the students deliver their lines, it’s hard to believe that they have only had one month to put the play together. And yet, Matthew Gorman, the lead with boyish Tobey Maguire good looks, effortlessly delivers line after line with conviction.

This is the biggest production most of the students been a part of. “It’s our first time with this set up. At times, it’s a big space and you have to fill it,” says the pretty and talented Sarah Power, who plays Marguerite, a nun looking for solace.

Holmes casted Power and the rest of the class based on their performances in last year’s two plays. One actor to watch for is Alamian. To nail the role of blind clown Legrand, Alamian watched Scent of a Woman and then locked himself in a room, turned off the lights and walked around with a stick. During his performance, he keeps his eyes closed.

“When my eyes are open it’s not as convincing,” he says. Fellow actor Dan Roberts plays Rochefort, a tortured professional killer turned clown. To get into the role he had to empathize with his character.

“I like playing villains, they are human beings, they love and they hate ?- they just make bad decisions.” Holmes, few days away from the play’s debut, says, “I never try to guess what the general public would do, there’s nothing general about it.”

However, she does hope that they appreciate the underlying message of Red Noses. “Theatre should have a message behind it, not just entertainment. It should promote ideals,” says Roberts. “Like the way we dealt with the tsunami. We have to find goodness in this chaotic world.”

Set and costume design is by John Thompson with musical direction by David Walden. Red Noses runs from Feb. 8 to 17 and comes highly recommended if you are interested in an evening of wit and raw talent. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 416-979-5118.

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