DOWN DANGEROUS PASSES ROAD by Michel Marc Bouchard, directed by Sarah Stanley, with Brandon McGibbon, David Jansen and Tony Munch. Factory Studio Theatre (125 Bathurst). Opens tonight (Thursday, November 8) and runs to December 2, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $18-$25, Sunday pwyc-$18. 416-504-9971.
at the end of the fringe, i treat myself to an hour of pleasure by returning to the most exciting piece I've seen in the past 10 days.In 1993, that extra theatre hit was Greek, Steven Berkoff's uncompromising version of the Oedipus story, directed by Josephine Le Grice and starring David Jansen as Eddie, the contemporary bloke going through the trials of Oedipus. He was electric in the explosive, difficult part.
Since then, Jansen has proven himself to be one of Toronto's most able actors, handling classical works -- he spent five seasons at Stratford -- and contemporary pieces with equal ease. In the past six months he's moved comfortably from Jason Sherman's An Acre Of Time to the postmodern compilation History Play, and bounced from the villainous Sebastian in Shakespeare's The Tempest to novice screenwriter Jerry in Daniel MacIvor's You Are Here.
He brought a wonderful sense of control to the extended images in Karen Hines's sweet but satiric Hello Hello, and in an adaptation of Alice In Wonderland he evoked a strong finger-snapping 50s feel as a beatnik White Rabbit named Louis.
It's not surprising that Jansen -- soft-spoken and introspective offstage -- has a talent for handling Shakespeare's verse, language that some Stratford actors treat with a sense of holiness rather than understanding.
"There's this skewed notion of his poetry -- that it can only be handled with reverence," says Jansen, sitting in a small alcove at the Factory Theatre.
"Instead, I try to connect his words to natural speech. Shakespeare's poetry is as direct as we can get. It's not about a tone of voice, but rather a direct action or a commentary."
Jansen and Le Grice's Wild Pig Theatre produced some terrific shows, including a 1993 remount of Greek, which earned him a Dora nomination, and The Conquest Of The South Pole, which won him a Dora award the following year.
"What we aimed at, whether a work was contemporary or classical, domestic or epic, was to find one world in another -- the everyday qualities, for instance, in a king."
The tactic also works for Michel Marc Bouchard's Down Dangerous Passes Road, in which Jansen plays Ambrose, the middle of three sons. He's moved to the city, come out and distanced himself from his rural working-class family. Exactly fifteen years after their father's death, he and his brothers visit the spot where the older man met his end.
"Ambrose has to confront his own cynicism and the alienation he's created. It's ultimately a return home for him and a chance to see his own mortality in a lyrical way.
"Looking at the past and the present, Ambrose and his brothers all realize how precious and acute living is. And that big concept is what so much art deals with."
Jansen's special skill is his clarity in handling text, which allows the emotion beneath the words to emerge with crystalline sharpness.
"I have a fundamental belief in language and how it can be such a powerful distiller of feeling," affirms Jansen. "I gravitate to writing that lets me investigate the potency of words and rhythm.
"Bouchard's writing has the strong sense of rhythm that I love. It's the essence of lyrical drama, where the rhythm is as important as what's being said, and it's what is so important to me about the writing of Shakespeare, MacIvor and Sherman.
"Whether it's the flow of a stage play, how a film is cut or the lines in a painting, the best art sets up a rhythm and then creates variations on it," he continues. "It becomes a physical thing for me, a heartbeat and the palpitations that vary that beat."But Jansen isn't afraid to be intellectual, either.
"I don't have to apologize for using my mind when I'm acting."