A WHISTLE IN THE DARK by Tom Murphy, directed by Jason Byrne, with Oliver Becker, Sarah Dodd, Jonathan Goad, Allan Hawco, David Jansen, Aaron Poole, Philip Riccio and Joseph Ziegler. Presented by the Company Theatre at the Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs (26 Berkeley). Previews begin tonight (Thursday, January 13), opens Saturday (January 15) and runs to February 5, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday 1:30 pm and Saturday 2 pm. $25, Monday pwyc, srs $18, under-21 $10. 416-368-3110. Rating: NNNNN
Irish playwright Tom Murphy's A Whistle In The Dark glowers with menace, both physical and psychological.
The 1961 piece, something of a modern classic, takes a caustic look at the Carney family, father and sons from County Mayo, who visit the eldest, Michael. Michael left home to strike out on his own and now lives in Coventry with his English wife, Betty.
This production marks the premiere of a new troupe, the Company Theatre, whose artistic directors are actors Allan Hawco and Philip Riccio.
"It's a drama in the tradition of Long Day's Journey Into Night and The Homecoming," says actor David Jansen, who plays Mush, the most timid of the Carney boys. In other words, it's not about a happy family.
"But this play feels like more than that. It's about how hard it is to stop violence, to get out of cycles of violence. The Greeks asked questions like that in their plays, too. Is that violent tendency innate in us as people, and how deeply civilized are we?"
Jansen's barrelling along this season, creating a series of strong performances that began last summer when he returned from a two-year stint in England. Mush is his fourth role since August.
"I always feel," he chuckles, "that I have to invent how to act every time out."
The play invites all types of intellectual analysis, including parallels between family pressures and those in the larger realm of English-Irish politics, but visiting Irish director Jason Byrne is concentrating more on the performances than on the ideas.
"He's working rigorously with the ensemble on our being real as actors, following the specific rhythms of the text. That detailed work makes you realize that you rely on certain acting patterns or habits. Jason's shaking us up by requiring a pared-down acting style, one that gives greater impact to the explosive moments.
"This is a play with a constant threat of violence. It's up to us to conjure even the offstage violence, down to the specifics of reacting to the blood on your shoe from a guy who's been hit with a chain."
Jansen, who co-founded Wild Pig, one of the most exciting Toronto companies of the 90s, admires the ambition that drives the newly formed Company Theatre.
"I have sympathy for anyone starting a company, given the contemporary climate of funding and politics. And to open with an eight-person show, thematically complex and directed by a visiting artist from Ireland, is a bold and unapologetic way of introducing themselves."