BLOOD by Tom Walmsley, directed by Kate Lynch, with Randy Hughson and Jane Spidell. Presented by Theatre Passe Muraille at the TPM Backspace (16 Ryerson). Previews January 20 and 21, opens January 22 and runs to February 15, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2:30 pm. $23-$32, previews and Sunday pwyc-$16. 416-504-7529. Rating: NNNNN
Actor Jane Spidell is looking forward to the day when her children can see her plays. Her last few roles, while performed with her usual intensity, haven't exactly been family fare. In her Dora- nominated turn in Motel Hélène, she played a haunted woman who had lost her child and let Tony Nappo lick whipped cream off her naked body.
A few seasons later, she showed up as the lusty maid in Miss Julie, then morphed into the self-destructive alcoholic wife of a trumpet player in Side Man.
"I said the word 'motherfucker' so often in Side Man that it started to lose its meaning," laughs Spidell.
"I got so tired of swearing onstage. Swearing and nudity.
"I'd love to do butterflies and fairies for a while," says the mother of a five- and seven-year-old. "Maybe a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream."
But before Titania beckons, she's got Tom Walmsley's play Blood to contend with, and it's definitely not G-rated.
Spidell plays Noelle, one of the juiciest female parts in Canadian theatre. Based on Walmsley's late sister, a junkie and prostitute, the role is tailor made for an actor who knows how to dig deep into dark terrain. There are drugs, swearing and sex of all sorts - including incest.
"I was absolutely terrified when I read the script, and I couldn't imagine myself in the role," says Spidell.
"But once we started rehearsals, I began seeing all this humour in it even though the situations are extreme and scary. Now we're having a ball."
On the first day of rehearsals, playwright Walmsley sat down with the company - Kate Lynch directs and Randy Hughson co-stars - and read his mid-90s script aloud. The two-hander follows one fevered day in the life of Noelle and her brother Chris, as Noelle tries to score a quick $500 for a fix.
"There was no suggestion of how we should do line readings," explains Spidell. "Tom's a writer, not a performer.
"But it was great to hear the rhythms of the words read by somebody who understands this world so well. It felt like one of those Broadway rehearsals in the first half of the 20th century, with the writer there."
The play's bleak, but Spidell points out that it's full of hope. She sees this as the key to her character.
"She's an addict, she's tough, and after some jail time and being off heroin for a while we see her on a day when she wants the drug again," explains Spidell. "She's ready to embrace the lifestyle again. She's stopped looking for grace, but I think some slips in."
After Blood, Spidell is set to join the ensemble of Michael Healey's Rune Arlidge at the Tarragon. For once, her kids might find themselves in the audience.
"That character's not on the edge," smiles Spidell.
"She's smack dab in the middle."