Playing house

tamara by John Krizanc, directed by Richard Rose, with Tamara Hickey, John Gilbert, Victor Ertmanis, Ellen Dubin, David Dunbar, Maggie.


tamara by John Krizanc, directed by Richard Rose, with Tamara Hickey, John Gilbert, Victor Ertmanis, Ellen Dubin, David Dunbar, Maggie Huculak, Dan Lett, Roger McKeen, Maria Ricossa and Amy Walsh. Presented by Moses Znaimer, Citytv, Necessary Angel and World Stage at Graydon Hall Manor (185 Graydon Hall). Runs to April 13, Thursday-Sunday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2 pm. $125. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN

No one sees a play in quite the same way. But it’s true in a literal sense for Tamara, John Krizanc’s high-concept 1981 political thriller in which the audience chases upstairs and downstairs after 10 mysterious characters and hundreds of plot points. Set in 1927 Italy in the home of poet Gabriele d’Annunzio (John Gilbert), the Richard Rose-directed production allows us to accompany any of the characters.

Should we follow womanizer and politico d’Annunzio? Or should we eavesdrop on his servants, like kleptomaniacal maid Emilia (Ellen Dubin), new chauffeur Mario (Dan Lett) or jovial valet Dante (Roger McKeen)?

Or should we shadow d’Annunzio’s former mistress, Luisa (Maggie Huculak), who’s jealous of the appearance of Tamara de Lempicka (Tamara Hickey), the artist painting d’Annunzio’s portrait? And then there’s that menacing policeman Aldo Finzi (Victor Ertmanis), who stamps our passports and seems to be sleeping with all the women.

The question of who wants to get into who’s Italian silk sheets — and why — provides lots of excitement. But running beneath the play are themes like art vs. politics, anti-Semitism and the rise of fascism.

It’s impossible to know everything that happens, so you follow the smoke from a gunshot, register a lascivious glance, listen to intimate tete-a-tetes and chat up other audience members at intermission over wine and dessert.

Since the interactive show is played out in Don Mills’s Graydon Hall Mansion, you can find yourself anywhere from a big drawing room to a tiny bedroom. Those bedrooms were my favourite. At the beginning, I watched a closet door creak open slowly as Huculak’s haunted, ghostly Luisa entered as if from a coffin, wielding a gun. Near the end, she retired there again, her life irrevocably changed. It was one of the most intimate moments I’ve experienced in a play.

Whatever you think of this kind of show — some might call it a gimmicky soap — you’ve got to admire the clockwork precision required to make the dozens of scenelets interact effectively. Krizanc’s script, from what I saw and heard, can be coarse, but it can also be eerily poetic.

Having seen Tamara once, I’d love to visit her again. I’m seduced.

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