While Point is Not Razor Sharp, it is Certainly Not Dull
Point of Honour holds itself to lofty ideals, reuniting two long-time fencing rivals to face off again—this time, not on the world’s greatest athletic stage, but rather a living room in a Slovenian apartment—in a struggle over honour, or at least its perception and definition. And while it doesn’t reach the razor-sharp levels of dialogue to which it aspires, it creates a piece of art that is akin to a silver-medal performance—slightly off the mark, but still entertaining to watch.
This production strives to explore the relationship that man has to a world without a defined set of rules. It’s a world where concepts of honour and the structures of religion are fluid and, for John Krisak’s Dariusz, it is only within the rigid confines of the fencing piste where order is honoured. And transgressions on that thin strip of life must face a reckoning.
That duality of presence—a clear embrace of right and wrong, yin and yang, dark and light—is reflected in the representations of the two characters. Peter Luscombe plays Zoltan, reserved, pensive, and allowing life to come to him. He’s a living embodiment of the style he embraced on the piste: a defensive, parry-based approach that allowed him to receive his opponent, survey his tactics, before exploiting a weakness with his riposte.
Conversely, Krisak’s Dariusz is always on the attack, poking, prodding, and thrusting statements, accusations, and explorations searching for a weakness. Krisak prowls the stage, often coiled and ready to attack. Unfortunately, the character descends into caricature rather quickly and some dialogue is sacrificed at the altar of accent choices, inflection, and staging. Dariusz’s often hushed tones can be lost, especially when his back is to the audience—and based on the stage set up, one half of the audience is always going to be in that position. One of the best lines of the play, uttered by Dariusz regarding Jesus’ “piercings”, is lost to much of the crowd because of that.
For much of the production, it feels like a one-man show. Dariusz dominates the dialogue, the movement, and the plot. Zoltan seems there primarily to “parry” Dariusz’s volleys: to receive the statements, accusations, and stories as he surveys the situation into which he has been thrust. It is only at the end, where he eviscerates Dariusz with a verbal riposte that cuts through to the core of Dariusz’s truth, not the “reality” he’s defined.
But for a play that celebrates the finesse of elite fencing competition, it’s fairly ham-fisted in its application, both through dialogue and plot devices. Dariusz himself speaks about the importance of not being predictable as a fencer, but the inevitable climax of the play is clear from almost the beginning and more time is spent meandering to the finale instead of—pun fully intended—getting to the point.
Perhaps by design, many of Dariusz’s lines are incredibly self-aware in relation to the greater process of writing the play. Reflecting upon Zoltan’s statement that he uses a lot of Latin phrases in his speech, Dariusz replies, “I like Latin. It adds gravitas to otherwise empty phrases.” That’s reflective of much of the production’s writing: scenes and dialogue are written to convey added weight, but really fail to serve any purpose other than self-gratification.
Luscombe is very good with what he’s given. There are a couple of moments—the aforementioned “riposte” and an earlier scene where his passion is evident as he sits at a virginal he’s restored—where his responses feel natural. However, much of the time, he’s merely a foil to Dariusz’s monologues.
There are some subtle nods to fencing throughout. The layout of the stage—a long, thin staging that runs between the audience, with both actors standing at opposite ends—emulates the piste itself. At one point, Dariusz executes a “second intent”, a false action designed to reveal Zoltan’s true feelings.
The staging is a highlight of the production. The piste-like setup is brilliant. Most appreciated are the subtle touches: the symmetry of the epees, foils, and sabres on their rack; the authenticity of the books on the shelves; and even the appearance of the medals. All had elements that showed that a lot of thought and planning was put into the presentation by set designers Julia Webb and Kathleen Sykora (who also serve as director and stage manager, respectively).
In the end, we get to where we expected to go. The climax comes with no denouement, but the audience is ready for it and expecting it, as it has been foreshadowed throughout the play. While it may not be cutting edge theatre, it’s certainly not dull—and that, in fencing parlance, represents a solid advance.