Actor Vickie Papavs is pulling herself out of a rut. She's often seen in film and TV as an angst-ridden sister or mother reacting to a death, an arrest or some other upset.But in Michael Lewis McLennan's Last Romantics she gets to play the vibrant Hetty, who creates a romantically tragic triangle relationship with two gay art collectors.
"In those other parts I'm usually limited to which way I hang my head and cry," laughs the actor, who conveys a quality of passionate involvement even in victim roles.
"Here I get to walk and talk and move the action along."
The play's central characters are real-life figures Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon. From the 1880s to the 1930s, the partners gathered one of the finest private art collections in England. Shannon was a painter, pushed by Ricketts to realize the greatness of his potential. Both idealized the art of the past. Ricketts, when he bought art for Canada's National Gallery, sneered at the Impressionists and Picasso as mere fads.
"The men look back to earlier periods in their artistic taste," says Papavs, "but Hetty saw herself as an embodiment of the future and tried to pull Shannon along with her."
Much of the first act takes place in the 1880s, when the collectors' circle includes the flamboyant Oscar Wilde (Ricketts illustrated most of Wilde's books), eccentric artist Aubrey Beardsley and a lesbian aunt-and-niece duo who published under the name Michael Field. The script becomes even livelier in the second act, when MacLennan adds Mackenzie King, Canada's seance-fixated prime minister.
Hetty -- an amalgamation of two historical people -- is as striking as any of the other characters, notes Papavs, who spent three seasons at Stratford and worked with director Richard Rose in It's All True.
"She lives in a world where a woman can be upwardly mobile through finesse and clear thinking if she hangs around in the right circles," says Papavs. "Hetty has a vision of a splendid life with her Charles, but the obstacle in her path is another man. She's smart enough, though, to entice Shannon with more than sexuality.
"If Hetty were trying to seduce Shannon today she might argue, "OK, so you move to Barrie, have kids and a mortgage. It may not be as exciting as an artist's life in the big city, but you'll be comfortable and established.'" email@example.com
LAST ROMANTICS by Michael Lewis MacLennan, directed by Richard Rose, with Oliver Dennis, Julian Richings, Jonathan Crombie, Barbara Gordon, Michael Hanrahan, Kate Hennig, Steven McCarthy and Vickie Papavs. Presented by Necessary Angel at the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley). Opens tonight (Thursday, February 27) and runs to March 22, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Saturday (except March 1) 2 pm. $20-$39, Monday pwyc-$20. 416-368-3110.