>>> Review: Breathing Corpses is full of dramatic life

A series of interconnected tales invites the audience to find the links between storylines

BREATHING CORPSES by Laura Wade (Coal Mine Theatre, 1454 Danforth). Runs to November 13. $35. See listing. coalminetheatre.com. Rating: NNNN

No matter how contented as we may be, disappointment, pain and death lie just around the corner in our frail human lives.

That idea sits at the centre of Laura Wade’s Breathing Corpses, but the cleverly structured script is far from depressing. The five scenes that move forward and backward in time offer viewers a mystery to solve like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, they allow us by the final curtain to see a pattern connecting this quartet of tales.

Amy (Erin Humphry), a London hotel chambermaid, discovers a body in the room she’s about to clean. It’s the second time she’s come upon a corpse, and her manager has dubbed her the angel of death.

Then there’s Jim, the owner of a self-storage business (Richard Sheridan Willis), his wife, Elaine (Severn Thompson), and his employee, Ray (Simon Bracken). The other storylines involve intense businesswoman Kate (Kim Nelson) and her young live-in boyfriend, Ben (Benjamin Sutherland), and a charming, sensual guest, Charlie (Johnathan Sousa), who checks into Amy’s hotel.

To give away more would reveal spoilers, but viewers eventually realize the links between the seemingly disparate narratives.

Under David Ferry’s expert direction, tuned to the mood of each scene, the ensemble cast sharply define their characters. There’s some bizarre comedy at the start as Amy has a one-sided conversation with the corpse, offering it comfort and a foot massage, followed by some vicious interactions in the play’s middle and a sinister, worrisome tone by the final scene.

The standout moments involve the two couples. Thompson’s Elaine is ultimately heartbreaking as a lonely empty-nester who craves company and covers that need with constant patter, looking to Willis’s ordered, organized Jim for comfort. In the most electric of the episodes, Nelson and Sutherland’s lovers define their relationship through feelings and actions that have nothing to do with tenderness. Nelson combines anger and despair in her driven Kate, while Sutherland’s initially naive Ben reveals the fury he has suppressed for too long.

Seeking a striking theatrical experience? Breathing Corpses will both surprise and unsettle you.

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