TAMARA (Canada) by John Krizanc, directed by Richard Rose, with Tamara Hickey, John Gilbert, Maggie Huculak, Roger McKeen, Ellen Dubin, David Dunbar, Victor Ertmanis, Dan Lett, Maria Ricossa and Amy Walsh. Presented by Moses Znaimer, Citytv and Necessary Angel at Graydon Hall Manor (185 Graydon Hall Drive). Previews begin Tuesday (April 1), opens April 3 and runs to April 13, Tuesday-Sunday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2 pm. $125, previews $100. Rating: NNNNN
I've seen John Krizanc's Tamara four times and have yet to see the entire show. I probably never will, in fact, since the interactive environmental piece plays out in a huge house/theatre -- the Italian palazzo of patriot and poet Gabriele d'Annunzio in 1927 -- where audience members follow their choice of 10 characters through a story of sexual and political assignations, love and betrayal that builds to an explosive finale.
First performed by Necessary Angel in 1981, the show's been mounted in Los Angeles, New York and Mexico City. The current production plays in 17 rooms of Graydon Hall.
The audience quickly become voyeuristic spectators of the action, and since following the action in the kitchen means not seeing what happens in someone's bedroom, it's impossible to follow all the plot's strands. During intermission over desserts and wine, you share tidbits of story with other viewers.
"I've never before been in a show that proves that each actor is at the centre of the universe," laughs Maria Ricossa, who plays d'Annunzio's confidante and lesbian housekeeper, Aelis Mazoyer. "John allows each of the characters to flourish and be eloquent in their world, this little microcosm of the house. At the same time, the audience sees the bigger world -- fascism, the arts, communism -- through them."
In a traditional sense, the centre of the plot is d'Annunzio's invitation to exiled Polish artist Tamara de Lempicka to paint his portrait, though his true motive is seduction. The sexual motif plays out both upstairs among the upper class and downstairs among the servants, none of whom are what they seem.
Because scenes are played simultaneously and often intersect with one another, the actors draw on different skills than in a traditional performance.
"A character's through-line is the same," offers the multi-talented Ricossa, who produces Play on the Beach and last appeared onstage in Walking On Crimson, "but I have to keep my ears open and be aware of scenes in other rooms.
"I have to pace myself so as not to enter a scene too early, and also deal with the fact that audience members might be a few inches away from me. It's a major challenge to keep focus, stay in the moment and yet be aware that you're a cog in a wheel where timing is everything."