WILLIAM & JAMES by Robert Tsonos, directed by George Pothitos, with Mark Caven and Michael Schultz. Presented by Sometimes Y Theatre and Theatre Passe Muraille in the Passe Muraille Mainspace (16 Ryerson). Previews begin Tuesday (January 7), opens January 9 and runs to January 26, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Saturday-Sunday 2:30 pm. $23-$32, Sunday and previews pwyc. 416-504-7529. Rating: NNNNN
most bedroom relationships never lose the push-and-pull tensions of a classic power struggle. Whether contemporary or set in a historic context, the negotiations between sexual partners reveal the human desire to subjugate or be subjugated, sometimes in nuanced ways.
It's that question of control that illuminates Robert Tsonos's William & James, which is set in the bedroom of an English manor house in 1850s England. James, the elder, offers the younger and lower-class William a chance to share his privileged life and bed for two years, with specific conditions. As the two play out sexual and emotional games, the increasingly complex nature of their relationship becomes apparent.
A gay British drama set four decades before Oscar Wilde? While the dialogue has the occasional Wildean epigrammatic touch, Tsonos admits to other models.
"I read a lot of the Brontë sisters and Jane Austen," says the playwright, just back in town from Japan, where he lives and works. "I'm aiming for playfulness, finesse and ease."
But what lies behind the elegantly articulate lines he's created?
"Emotional restraint, for each man has been damaged in the past and is reluctant to explore the possibility of love.
"That's true of all relationships, gay or straight. I think anyone can relate to the material in the play, no matter what their orientation."
It's been just over two years since William & James was workshopped at Buddies' Winter Fling. Tsonos has rewritten half the script, toning down the earlier version's melodrama.
"James and William have to deal with class and financial differences, and even when they strike an agreement it's hard to keep it from unravelling. While their debates over the specifics of their relationship are like the marriage-contract scenes in period plays, they also resonate with cohabitation agreements and gay marriages today."
Tsonos is leaving a lot of the details of the power switches to the actors. He wants them to explore the play's rapidly shifting levels of intensity -- he snaps his fingers several times to demonstrate the work's back-and-forth moves -- and to decide which cards to play and when to reveal them.
"What's important for me is that the characters never apologize for being gay. There's no self-hatred, no denial, no repression. They talk about the world outside causing difficulties for them, but they accept their situation as part of life.
"And I hope the results are sexy, too," he says with a smile. "After all, the whole piece takes place in a bedroom." email@example.com