Tongues Tripped

SWOLLEN TONGUES by Kathleen Oliver, directed by Richard Rose, with Ben Carlson, Karen Hines, Melody Johnson and Nancy Palk. Presented.


SWOLLEN TONGUES by Kathleen Oliver, directed by Richard Rose, with Ben Carlson, Karen Hines, Melody Johnson and Nancy Palk. Presented by Necessary Angel at the Factory Studio Theatre (125 Bathurst). Runs to November 10, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2:30 pm. $22-$30, stu/srs discounts, Sunday pwyc-$22. 416-504-9971. Rating: NNN

Rating: NNN

If swollen tongues were being produced by, say, an upstart feminist company or a bunch of recent National Theatre School grads, I’d be OK with it. But Necessary Angel, the risky theatre company that gave us Inexpressible Island, Glenn and It’s All True, seems to be slumming with this superficial look at sex, Sappho and sonnets.Kathleen Oliver’s award-winning script, written entirely in rhyming couplets, attempts to send up Restoration drama cliches by showing what happens when two siblings, Thomas (Ben Carlson) and Catherine (Karen Hines), schooled in poetry by Dr. Wise (Nancy Palk), compete for the affections of seamstress Sonja (Melody Johnson).

Oliver has fun with rhymes, and her plot — some ridiculous confection about a poetry writeoff — is frothily amusing. But in an era of queer studies departments and theses about gender stereotypes and hidden homo histories, the script feels thin.

While the language mixes old and new (“My sister has a fitting… I’m shitting”), there’s not enough pomo substance to give it a satisfying contemporary feel.

That doesn’t stop the actors from having fun wrapping their tongues around the words, or trying on wigs and corsets with panache.

Palk shows comic flair and warmth as a long-repressed poet and scholar, while Carlson and Hines are so completely in character that their lines blossom forth naturally. If you want to study comic timing, watch these two.

Which leaves Melody Johnson, who in almost every show she’s done seems to rely on gimmicks and tricks to create a character.

Richard Rose’s production and David Boechler’s design emphasize the motif of doors: looking through keyholes, exploring other rooms. Wish the script were made of sturdier stuff.

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