THIS HOTEL by Alex Poch-Goldin, directed by Kelly Thornton, with Brenda Bazinet, Randy Hughson, Veronika Hurnik, Alon Nashman and Richard Zeppieri. Presented by Planet 88 in association with Theatre Passe Muraille in the Passe Muraille Mainspace (16 Ryerson). Opens tonight (Thursday, May 10) and runs to May 27, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $19-$28, Sunday and previews pwyc. 416-504-7529.
veronika hurnik has the focus of a laser beam. Stage designers hammer, technicians bang, and there's complete chaos around Hurnik as she talks about her work. But the actor can't be sidetracked.
She has a white-hot intensity no matter what she does. When she broke her collarbone during Paula And Karl, she finished the performance without letting the audience -- 30 people, some of whom were only inches away -- know what had happened.
Now she's recuperated and back onstage -- with most of the original cast -- in the full-length version of Alex Poch-Goldin's Fringe hit This Hotel. The show is set in the subconscious of Lester, a confused man who discovers that his wife's having an affair. Escaping into fantasies, he encounters a variety of Jungian figures, including Antoinette, a helpful but shy French chambermaid, and Louise, a troubled vamp, both played by Hurnik.
"Since the Fringe version in 1998, the characters have matured," says the husky-voiced Hurnik over lunch.
"Antoinette, the maid, is less meek now, more a Florence Nightingale nurturer. Louise is as damaged as Lester, but he sees her as someone desirable because of his own problems. Trouble is, she's like a piece of cheesecake for someone on a diet, absolutely the wrong thing to grab."
Hurnik is dressed all in black, her alert, expressive blue-grey eyes locking on me whenever she's speaking. Diffidence and hesitation aren't words in her body language these days, but she admits to some past shyness.
Like This Hotel's director, Kelly Thornton -- newly named one of the two artistic heads of Nightwood Theatre -- Hurnik studied at the University of Guelph. An art history major, she was seduced by theatre in her third year. Hurnik finally moved to Toronto to see if she had the chops for professional stage work.
"The hardest thing was admitting to myself what I do," she recalls. "I usually told others that I worked retail and also did theatre. It took a long time for me to stop mumbling, "Mnactor' when people asked about my work, and finally clarify it: "I'm an actor.'"
That former lack of confidence will surprise anyone who's seen Hurnik's work. Her seemingly ordinary but blazing-eyed girlfriend in the environmentally-staged Paula And Karl was mesmerizing. Talking about the truncated run -- performed with the audience and actors crowding into a real apartment -- gives her a moment of discomfort.
"After so much hard work and concentration -- having to count to 102 between my lines, with audience members talking to me and going into the bedroom to watch me change -- it was an unhappy ending."
Hurnik can play roles like Hollywood 40s screen beauty Merle Oberon in Camera, Woman and Barbara Branden, the openly cuckolded wife in The Emotionalists, but it's the physical roles she relishes. Her vibrant Brunnhilde toyed with power, while earlier, as earth mother Erda in an off-the-wall Das Rheingold, Hurnik performed on a stage whose design included broken glass and dangerous trap doors.
"Text alone usually doesn't do it for me," she nods. "I like the band, not the talking heads. The movement-based play Going was a piece of spontaneous creation, the hottest show I've ever done. I mean that literally. I marched around a stifling theatre covered with white paint for a solid hour, dreads sticking out from a tube on my head."
She demonstrates graphically, calling the piece "a 3-D show that had all the lights, cameras and action.
"Physical theatre is where the future lies. We're multidimensional beings and we're entertained by multidimensional events. Theatre is one of the best mixing bowls."
2001 This Hotel; Paula And Karl
2000 The Emotionalists
1998 Camera, Woman; Megatropolis; This Hotel (Fringe)
1997 The Visit
1995 Slay Me
1993 Over; Das Rheingold; Going