ADULT ENTERTAINMENT and END OF CIVILIZATION by George F. Walker, directed by Ken Gass, with David Ferry, Ron White, Linda Prystawska, Jane Spidell, Brenda Bazinet, Dennis O'Connor and Jody Stevens. Factory (125 Bathurst). In rep to June 12, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm (May 28, June 4 and 11 at 6:30 and 9:15 pm), matinee Sunday 2 pm (also June 5 and 12 at 7 pm). $25-$34, previews $12, Sunday matinee pwyc-$20, birthday event May 28 $50, discounts for purchasing both shows. 416-504-9971. Rating: NNNNN
It's time to check into suburban Motel again. And this time it's for a party.
To celebrate Factory Theatre's 35th birthday, artistic director Ken Gass has programmed two of the six plays from George F. Walker's wonderful Suburban Motel cycle, originally produced at Factory seven years ago.
All the shows take place in the same room in a seedy motel on the outskirts of a large city. Gass directs a pair of the works, Adult Entertainment and End Of Civilization, which are linked not only by the setting but also by a couple of eccentric cops, Donnie and Max, who use the room for sex, illicit deals and some musings on the nature of life, justice and drugs.
The double bill (each show is presented separately) is a great capper to Factory's best season in years, which included Trout Stanley and The Leisure Society as well as Necessary Angel's Bigger Than Jesus and Theatre Smith-Gilmour's Chekhov's Heartache, both produced in association with Factory.
"It amazes me that George's works aren't done more often," offers Gass before he launches into a busy two-show rehearsal day. "You go to New York or Chicago and you'll always find a couple of Mamet plays during a season, but major Canadian theatres only seem to embrace George in fits and starts.
"His works are more often read and studied here than they are produced," says Gass, who also teaches at the U of T.
Walker is one of our best writers, with a sharp wit, a great sense of dialogue, and storylines that are in fourth gear as soon as the curtain goes up. His characters offer intriguing, far from conventional philosophies of life. And his plays are among Canada's most frequent theatrical exports.
Then there are his co-written scripts for CBC-TV's This Is Wonderland, set in the labyrinthine and sometimes quirky Toronto justice system. The Tuesday-night show, which just wrapped up its second season, has brought to the screen the talents of dozens of local theatre performers.
"George is often inspired to write for actors he's worked with onstage, and it's a great pleasure to see our theatre's vitality finding its way into This Is Wonderland," says Gass, whose association with Walker goes back to Factory's early days in the 70s.
Gass also sees thematic parallels between the TV show and the pair of plays he's directing.
"Adult Entertainment looks at the world of cops and prosecutors and deal-making, at the mutability of justice, which is supposed to be rock solid. The characters are jaundiced, but a part of them is also trying to do something good, even if it means manipulating the system and allowing the ends to justify the means."
End Of Civilization, an even more poignant work, focuses on Henry and Lily, a formerly well-to-do couple forced by the husband's job loss and resulting economic constraints to move out of their home and radically alter their lifestyle. That change also affects their outlook on life.
"It's one of my favourites of the cycle," admits Gass, "such a painful play about how people struggle when the bottom falls out.
"In the arts, we're so aware of that happening, and you don't have to go far down the road" - he points in the direction of Bay Street - "to see it in other sectors as well.
"But it's especially hard on theatre artists, most of whom are employed only intermittently, and usually have to prove themselves with every audition."
Like all of Walker's plays, these two one-acts are filled with irony, anger and complexity.
"George's characters often talk about blame; it's almost a running gag," says the director, relaxing with his feet up on a chesterfield. "Dealing with bad luck, drug dependency or a bad childhood, the characters are intricate bundles of reflexes.
"But they're not simply the architects of their own misfortune. They also live in a callous, chaotic world, often situated in a city's underbelly, a world that veers out of control."