Sparking Up Tobacco Road

Paul Fauteux's lonely pothead adds smoke to Tillsonburg

McKenna, directed by Miles Potter, with
McKenna, Lawrence Bayne, Paul
Essiembre, Paul Fauteux and David Ferry.
Canadian Stage (26 Berkeley). Opens
tonight (Thursday, October 18) and runs to
November 24, Monday-Saturday 8 pm,
matinees Wednesday 1:30 pm and
Saturday 2 pm. $25-$49, limited Monday
pwyc and same-day half-price rush.
416-368-3110 Rating: NNNNN

paul fauteux is proud to show off his scars — the ones he got playing tormented people. Trained at the National Theatre School (NTS), Fauteux’s had plenty of classical roles. But he’s best known in Toronto for contemporary pieces like The Kabbalistic Psychoanalysis Of Adam R. Tzaddik, Mysterium Tremendum, Semi-Private and Kaspar.

“I guess,” Fauteux laughs as I point out the shared characteristics of his roles, “that I like to take on scarred figures, people who are psychologically or emotionally maimed.”

He’s staying in the same angst-ridden mode for Tillsonburg, Irish playwright Malachy McKenna’s play about two Irishmen who spend the summer harvesting tobacco in the Ontario town of the title. It’s based on McKenna’s own work experience over seven summers in Tillsonburg.

Fauteux is Billy, a Sudbury man who alternates between odd jobs and welfare. Billy prefers other recreational drugs to the tobacco he harvests.

“Like the other characters, he’s based on someone Mal knew,” says Fauteux. “But he lives in the land of caricature, so my challenge is to make him real. Billy’s a drifter, a loner who hasn’t had much affection.”

Fauteux came to Toronto after theatre school, at the invitation of director and fellow NTS student Chris Abraham — they’ve collaborated frequently — to perform the solo show Kaspar. He had to act behind a plastic scrim.

“Kaspar was about the acquisition of language and whether that implies the acquisition of thought,” he remembers. “It was hard to learn the non-sequential lines. I don’t think I ever got it completely right.”

It was a show few people saw. Maybe that was because Kaspar opened just as the Fringe was starting.

“Chris’s shows now sell out regularly,” chuckles Fauteux. “Back then, he was standing on Bloor Street giving away free tickets.”

Even harder than Kaspar was Fauteux’s work in Darren O’Donnell’s Boxhead, in which he and O’Donnell were identical geneticists wearing — no surprise — boxes on their heads.

“It was the most difficult performing experience I’ve ever had.”

The actors voiced not only the scientists but also the narrators, and then a second pair of narrators. Stage manager Stephen Souter helped to alter the separate voices electronically, but the performers had to do their part, too.

“The scientist spoke like this,” says Fauteux, raising his voice slightly, then lowering it, “and the narrator was like this.”

He drops it down a few more notes and slows to half-speed.

“And the second narrator had to be at this pace, because the amplified voices were so low that they’d distort if we spoke normally.

“It was the theatrical equivalent of rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time.”

After that, playing a pot-smoking harvester should be a breeze.

jonkap@nowtoronto.comtheatre profile

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