RUSSELL HILL by Chris Earle, directed by Chris Abraham, with Earle, Sam Earle, Shari Hollett, Frank Moore, Mary Francis Moore and Robert Smith. Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman). Previews to Sunday (April 20), opens Tuesday (April 22) and runs to May 25, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2:30 pm (no matinee April 19), April 30 and May 7 at 1:30 pm. $25-$31, Sunday pwyc-$15, previews $17. 416-531-1827. Rating: NNNNN
If you want someone to sell a script's uneasy laughs, go directly to Mary Francis Moore. In the past year, she's played an ex-aerial artist who breaks up with a shy suitor because of a fiendish rodent (Grendelmaus) and half of a newlywed couple with a dark secret (One Good Marriage, That One, That One).
She revived the nasty-toned bittergirl, in which she and two friends get even with user boyfriends. At the suggestion of a literary agent, Moore and bittergirl co-writer/performers Alison Lawrence and Annabel Griffiths are writing a book they're calling The Bittergirl Brigade. The agent dubbed it chick non-fic. And let's not forget how she defined superbitch in the Fringe hit Top Gun! The Musical.
Now she's tackling another new script, Chris Earle's darkly humorous Russell Hill, which uses the 1995 TTC subway crash as a springboard to look at a series of edgy relationships that go off the rails when characters don't read the signals properly.
"I love Chris's sense of comedy, both smart and discomforting at the same time," says the warm, grounded Moore, who made my 2002 list of 10 top theatre artists. "He even addresses the dicey issue of sick jokes in the script.
"His writing and his acting" -- Earle's also performing in Russell Hill as the piece's slightly sinister host -- "are so likeable that people are drawn to him, but he can turn on a dime and be really nasty."
Audiences know what Moore means. In director Daniel Brooks's production of Goethe's Faust, Earle turned the devil Mephistopheles into a charming salesman with a winning smile that even a cynic would trust. As writer/performer of the award-winning Radio :30, the Second City-trained artist showed us a seemingly confident man crumbling under the guilt of a past indiscretion.
Played out on a subway platform that changes into everything from a park to a pool at a Mexican resort, his new work strings together a series of seemingly unrelated scenes that have increasingly dangerous, unnoticed undercurrents. The company took a research field trip, riding at the front of a subway car, and noticed that the train often rushed toward a red signal that turned green only when the subway was right on top of it.
"The joke is, trust the system and see where it gets you," she smiles. "There's always an element of risk. At the same time, where does your life go if you always stand behind the yellow line, minding the gap?"
Moore carries the play home with her, but not in any usual sense.
Talented composer Richard Feren's designed a soundscape that includes a pulsating, rhythmic, slightly industrial tune that suggests the impending arrival of a subway in the station. Or maybe an impending crash into another train.
"It's a really catchy tune, and I find myself Ferenizing all night. I even clean my tub to Richard's score."email@example.com profile
Mary Francis Moore takes a trip to Chris Earle's darkly comic Russell Hill