THE STRONGER VARIATIONS adapted from Strindberg, conceived and directed by Allyson McMackon (Theatre Rusticle). At the Studio Theatre (235 Queens Quay West). To December 16. $10-$20. See Continuing, page 82. 416-973-4000. Rating: NN Rating: NN
If you're going to deconstruct something, you need to give us a good idea of what you're taking apart in the first place. And if you're going to deliver a series of variations, that opening theme better sound out loud and clear.
All of that's missing in The Stronger Variations, Theatre Rusticle's handsome but failed physical theatre piece.
The work, according to the press notes, is inspired by a brief August Strindberg story about an encounter between a wife and her husband's mistress. The two meet during the holidays, and the wife delivers a monologue, thick with subtext, about her home life, particularly the presents she's got for her children and a pair of slippers for her husband.
Director Allyson McMackon sets up the 80-minute work like a parodic Christmas special. Her six performers bounce onto the stage, each carrying a red holiday gift bag. Then two characters pair up to deliver the same scene, often with different vocal or physical emphases.
This results in a series of cutesy, nudge-nudge, wink-wink scenelets about the holidays. A smorgasbord of holiday songs underscores the work, letting us consider the irony of a season of supposed charity and goodwill.
Without grounding us appropriately at the beginning, however, the show meanders and fails to take on other layers, despite strong performances by the ensemble, which includes the formidable Viv Moore and the always watchable Liza Balkan and Lucy Rupert.