One of the best parts of regular theatre going is seeing most plays more than once. Witnessing two productions of the same show in a given year can be relatively frequent (cross-references below), but to have the opportunity of viewing a pair of takes on the same material within a fortnight (and ~100 mile radius) is as rare as it is intriguing.
Happily, both productions (Toronto/Buffalo) have much to admire if decidedly different points of view on David Harrower’s gritty, challenging script—either are worth seeing as part of the never-ending quest to fathom just what this gifted playwright may have actually meant (no doubt, even his own interpretation of this most personal creation will also evolve over time).
Director Kelli Bobcock-Natale opts for a deliberately sensational path in telling the story of forbidden love between a fully-grown man and a just-awakening 12-year-old girl. Meeting again for the first time since her complete violation and his arrest for the reprehensible, self-serving deed, Una (Candice Kogut delves into the emotionally charged role with commendable courage and honesty) appears without warning into the visually anonymous, light-industry’s pigsty lunchroom decked out like a ten-dollar hooker just coming on shift—the sensual gleam of the patent leather boots easily draws the eye to the wide-open spaces between their top and the ever-so-short skirt above. This overt declaration of sexuality is a gutsy move that speaks volumes to the “83” men she’s bedded since losing her virginity—and trust—to a valued friend of the family. But in the longer run, Una as shameless tart weakens much of the truly pathetic relationship that is at the subtextual root of Harrower’s words.
Playing the opportunistic, apparently reformed perpetrator, Ray, Richard Lambert turns in a performance that will linger in uneasy memory for years. His ever-credible increasing nervousness, as a mostly honest reaction to the reconstruction of the sordid facts and patent inability to mend his ways, drive the dialogue forward as surely as his change of name has only succeeded in creating an a.k.a. of a career criminal.
As their collective back-story unfolds, the intentional blurring of right/wrong, moral/immoral, taunter/tormentor has many moments of disturbing impact (Una’s milestone pleadings for her “Ray”—now Peter to his puzzled, unseen fellow employees—delineate the scenes in a harrowing manner that eerily lays out the dramatic architecture).
A few seemingly innocent details somewhat detract from the power of the work.
The unexpected, early intimacy of sharing a bottle of water is diminished through the lack of subliminal body language even as a readily accessible water cooler stands silently within reach. Inexplicably, the fully-functional lunchroom clock shows 11:40 a.m. as the proceedings commence. Where are the hungry, slovenly staff when noon arrives? Much later, if everyone else is leaving (Ray admits he often locks up), what is the premise for the half-holiday rather than a more usual 4:30 p.m. shutdown?
Sickening to some, the sexual contact—when it does come—goes on longer than its revulsion/uneasy-acceptance requires. Then, the coitus-interuptus call-out from Ray’s current wife is too soft and too late to serve its deeply numbing purpose.
Dolly Goodman’s next-in-line character, The Girl, has its desired effect, even as the patrons leave the theatre hoping this fiction is stranger than truth. But we all know better than that. JWR