No balls

Fine acting lends nuance to Pains Of Youth's stilted script

Rating: NNNNN

PAINS OF YOUTH by Ferdinand Bruckner, directed by Edward Roy, with Joel Hechter, Fiona Highet, David Jansen, Erin MacKinnon, Christopher Morris, Anne Page and Linda Prystawska. Presented by Theatre Voce at Canadian Stage (26 Berkeley). Runs to February 3, Monday-Saturday 8 pm. $18-$23, stu/srs $16-$18, Monday pwyc. 416-368-3110. Rating: NNN
the angst in ferdinand bruck-ner’s 20s play Pains Of Youth isn’t only that of adolescent characters growing up in a post-war generation. Sexual tension, class struggle and financial problems exacerbate the pressures in this complex and flawed script.Director Edward Roy plays up all the angles in the work’s emotional triangles, with jealousy, lust and provocative taunts shifting from one interlocking group to another. David Wootton’s wonderful set picks up these sharp, jagged edges in a show where no character feels grounded for long ­– there’s always a slippery slope to fall down when dealing with others. Kevin Quain’s honky-tonk score adds to the unsettling atmosphere.

The text is sometimes stilted ­– because of the original German or Daphne Moore’s translation? ­– and the brittle tone can be clearer than the spoken words. Roy winds up the tension by using shadow-play behind translucent paper walls.

Most of his actors capture the flickering, changeable flames of sexual desire that attack the characters like a disease and turn their world upside down. It’s not by chance that several of them are medical students. The result? A series of intricate, sometimes contradictory relationships.

There’s strong work from Fiona Highet as the impetuous lesbian Desiree, who wants to turn her rooming-house neighbour and fellow student Marie (Anne Page) into an adored sister, David Jansen as a slightly older man whose interest in Marie goes beyond tutoring, and Linda Prystawska as the coy Irene, resentful of her poverty and trying to steal the affections of a naive writer (Joel Hechter) from Marie.

It’s a treat to watch Christopher Morris as Freder, who thinks nothing of toying with a maid (Erin MacKinnon) and controlling anyone in his sphere. We’ve seen Morris’s warmth and charm in other shows here we see the flipside of those qualities as he changes into a manipulative, dangerous Svengali who mocks others for sheer pleasure.

Dead on arrivalBurying michael by Ken Brand, directed by David Oiye, with Terrence Bryant, Jason Jazrawy, Brian Sexsmith and David Macniven. Presented by Buddies in Bad Times and the Ladies’ Auxiliary Theatricals at Buddies (12 Alexander). Runs to January 28, Thursday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. Pwyc-$18. 416-975-8555. Rating: NN
we never see the corpse in ken Brand’s Burying Michael, but that hardly matters. The script and production are stiff enough.Billed as a queer road-trip comedy, the play follows an “AIDS widow” named Max (a whiny Terrence Bryant) as he flees Winnipeg with the body of his deceased lover in his car trunk. On his way to New Mexico, Max meets the libidinous younger Frank (a charismatic Jason Jazrawy), as well as a variety of men in uniform (all played with skill by David Macniven).

For some reason, Max is also being pursued by Albert (Brian Sexsmith), a matronly drag queen and former lover.

Devoid of suspense and written in a brittle, archly ironic style, the mercifully short play features one lovely scene about the planet Saturn. But there are black holes in the script. Who and what was Michael? Why did he want his remains to end up in New Mexico? How did the play squeak through Buddies’ dramaturgy process?GLENN SUMINo ballsmaking porn by Ronnie Larsen, directed by Caryn Horwitz, with Adam Beckworth, Jason Branch, Butch Cordora, Blake Harper, John Hensley and Kym Kristalie. Presented by Philip Roger Roy and Horwitz at the Bathurst Street Theatre (736 Bathurst). Runs to February 11, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 7 pm. $45-$55. 416-531-6100. Rating: NN
it’s so ironic. what’s compelling about Ronnie Larsen’s Making Porn, his all-revealing look at the gay male porn industry in the early 80s, isn’t the simulated sex and chance to see real-life porn stars in the tanned flesh. The scenes that linger have to do with watching relationships unfold: a codependent one between an older director and his younger assistant, and a healthier one between the assistant and an aspiring-porn-star-cum-law-student.Larsen does an acceptable job of deglamorizing the sex industry, with characters discussing theatre while matter-of-factly wiping off dildos. And the show never pretends to be anything it’s not.

But the paint-by-numbers plot makes the stories in porn videos seem profound. Plus, there are some strange oddities. Act II is one long epilogue, and I’m pretty sure telephone call waiting wasn’t readily available in the early 80s.

In answer to the question “Can porn stars really act?”­– yes and no. Playing a jaded porn star, Jason Branch mumbles quickly through many of his lines, but the charming Blake Harper, as an aspiring serious actor, has a winning comic presence. Both are upstaged, at least in the acting department, by Adam Beckworth and John Hensley as a touching pair who find true romance in an unlikely setting.GS

Stones unevenSTONES IN HIS POCKETS by Marie Jones, directed by Ian McElhinney, with Seán Campion and Conleth Hill. Presented by Mirvish Productions at the Winter Garden Theatre (189 Yonge). Runs to February 25, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday 2 pm. $35-$52. 416-872-1212. Rating: NNN
when a hollywood film com-pany settles briefly into a small Irish town to shoot an “authentic” period piece about rich landowners and downtrodden peasants, you know there’s bound to be a discrepancy between reality and story.Irish playwright Marie Jones exploits that difference in Stones In His Pockets, a London hit now in town on its way to Broadway. Despite the laughs the play generates, there’s no surprise that a Hollywood plot and the emotions it arouses are about as memorable as last week’s issue of Variety. Jones settles for gentleness and geniality rather than sharp satire, a decision that satisfies an audience ready to laugh even in the more serious second act, when an actual tragedy impinges on the filming.

Her ace is original cast members Se´n Campion and Conleth Hill, both nominated for London’s Olivier Awards, as is the play. Under Ian McElhinney’s direction, they create some 15 characters, from local extras and disillusioned Irish teens to Caroline, the American film star, and the coterie who fawn on her.

The two capture characters immediately, with the angle of a head or the thrust of a paunch.

Their most impressive creations are two condescending women ­– the hair-flipping Caroline (Hill), who tries to suck Irish authenticity from the villagers, and the hyperactive third assistant director, Aisling (Campion), desperate to impress her bosses.

Too bad more of the other figures aren’t similarly biting.JK

Myth missesVENUS AND ADONIS by Hans Werner Henze, directed by Elkhanah Pulitzer, choreographed by Serge Bennathan, conducted by Richard Bradshaw, with Susan Marie Pierson, Timothy Noble, Alan Woodrow, Carolyn Woods, Robert Glumbek and Jay Gower Taylor. Presented by the Canadian Opera Company at the Hummingbird Centre (1 Front East). January 25, 31 and February 3 at 8 pm, January 28 at 2 pm. $38-$135. 416-872-2262. Rating: NN

mythic stories deserve big treatment, and opera certainly provides that scope. But as adventurous as Hans Werner Henze’s contemporary piece Venus And Adonis is, the one-act opera makes little impact in the vocal department.The Canadian Opera Company production ­– whose head, Richard Bradshaw, conducted it in Santa Fe last summer ­– comes to Toronto as an intriguing piece chronicling the love triangle involving the beautiful Venus, the youthful Adonis and the older Mars.

We see it in a trio of parallel versions: the Greek myth, the interaction of three opera singers who gather to perform a piece based on the myth, and three dancers who mirror the singers.

Finally, a different orchestra corresponds to each of the mythic figures, and a madrigal chorus comments on the action.

Choreographer Serge Bennathan succeeds best with his dancers ­– Carolyn Woods, Jay Gower Taylor and Robert Glumbek ­– by giving the trio, who can be seen as internal projections of the singers’ desires, a pulsing sensuality mirrored in Henze’s music.

But the writing for the singers ­– Susan Marie Pierson, Alan Woodrow and Timothy Noble ­– is empty of emotion, and the performers deliver it with stentorian, Wagnerian voices and such stiff acting that we’re distanced from the characters, be they mythic or real.

In fact, the whole production, set in a tattered rehearsal hall that suggests Greek architecture, could use more of the mythic.

There’s greater pleasure in the smaller-scale curtain-raiser, excerpts from John Blow’s 17th-century opera on the same subject that feature Bennathan’s dancers and the six madrigal singers.JK

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