TINY DYNAMITE by Abi Morgan, directed by Ashlie Corcoran, with Steven McCarthy, Perrie Olthuis and Dylan Trowbridge. Presented by Theatre Smash at the Tarragon Extra Space (30 Bridgman). Previews begin Friday (September 22), opens Wednesday (September 27) and runs to October 8, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $18-$20, Sunday pwyc, previews $14. 416-531-1827. Rating: NNNNN
It's not the kind of thing that an actor likes to acknowledge. Steven McCarthy whispers that rehearsing Tiny Dynamite used to give him a stomach ache.
Why? Because British writer Abi Morgan's play, the premiere production by Theatre Smash, isn't an easy trip for performers to sort out. In it, two childhood friends, Lucien and Anthony, reconnect for a summer holiday and meet Madeleine, who reminds them of an unsettling someone from their past.
"When I read it I felt deeply puzzled," says McCarthy. "Usually I understand the dramaturgy and ins and outs of what we have to show an audience, but this piece isn't about what happens so much as about the relationships.
"Then I realized that I know how to tackle the relationship between the two guys - I have friends who've been in my life since I was three. There are the arcane references to TV shows you saw when you were both 12, the emotional baggage you carry, the way you know how they'll react to situations.
"And like Lucien and Anthony, my friends and I speak in an elliptical language. It's just a matter of getting inside the characters and seeing what the links are."
Director Ashlie Corcoran understands the difficulty of McCarthy's journey, for she's been down that same road with the play.
She found Tiny Dynamite when she was doing her M.A. in England and, unlike other plays she looked at, she didn't put it back on the library shelf after reading three pages.
"I like it because the script made me work as a reader and still does as a director," she says with a smile. Corcoran's assistant-directed at Tarragon and Shaw and is polishing her directing skills in this year's Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio.
"What's happening in the play isn't always easy to decipher, and that challenge and investigation is thrilling for me.
"What I do know is that it's a piece about lonely people trying to make connections with others, and that it sits - this is part of its excitement - in a naturalistic world containing magical elements that offer hope to the characters."
That magic realism includes the fact that Anthony, struck by lightning as a child, now attracts bees and fireflies.
The outwardly successful businessman Lucien explains it all rationally, while homeless drifter Anthony looks for a more mystical, random reason.
"Madeleine's the catalyst for the two men to discover a past they won't talk about," explains Corcoran, who founded Theatre Smash with fellow Queen's U grad Sarah Baumann. They plan to explore new Canadian work as well as premiere contemporary European plays such as Tiny Dynamite.
"It has to do with her uncanny resemblance to this woman from their past; the resemblance is about spirit and energy, not looks. She haunts them at some level, and as a result, these two men, anti-social in their own ways, open up to new possibilities."
"No, I think they haunt themselves, and she just spurs it on," counters McCarthy, a strong actor who should work here more often. One of the two performers in 2b theatre's Revisited last winter at the Theatre Centre, he's also appeared with VideoCabaret and Necessary Angel.
Apparently those alternative arguments have come up frequently in rehearsals. The script's subtext is so powerful that actors and director constantly share ideas about what they think is going on.
The rehearsal hall clearly offers an open environment where interpretations can change.
"That makes each of us responsible in an unusual way for the production," adds McCarthy. "In most Canadian theatre, the text is king, and we're all very polite about it in rehearsals.
"With Tiny Dynamite, we've all become pretty mouthy about what it all means."