UNIDENTIFIED HUMAN REMAINS AND THE TRUE NATURE OF LOVE by Brad Fraser, directed by Jim Millan, with Damien Atkins, Mary Krohnert, Michelle Latimer, Tony Nappo, Philip Riccio, Brendan Wall and Jenny Young. Presented by Crow's Theatre in association with Buddies in Bad Times at Buddies (12 Alexander). Opens tonight (Thursday, April 29) and runs to May 16, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $26-$32, Sunday pwyc. 416-975-8555. Rating: NNNNN
Crow's Theatre has something to, well, to crow about, as it celebrates its 20th anniversary with a revival of its 1990 hit, Brad Fraser's Unidentified Human Remains And The True Nature Of Love. Part mystery, part sex farce with a sad lining, part exposé of empty urban lives, the play follows seven Edmontonians, gay and straight, who want to connect with others yet are fearful of doing so.
The wisest and most self-accepting of the group is Benita, a psychic prostitute who reads auras and acts as the audience's guide through the show.
It's a role nicely suited to the talents of Michelle Latimer, who impressed viewers as the powerful, demanding Aksinya in Chekhov Longs and as Virginia, the intense, complex teen who toys with committing suicide in the solo show Idiot.
Latimer knows how to play with emotional nuance, how to grab an audience's collective heart while letting her character's passions build in a pressure-cooker situation.
"Benita lives in a hard world," offers Latimer, "but she's an independent woman who uses her sensitivity to help others.
"At first I saw her as a queen of the night, an underworld goth, but I've now discovered her inner child, someone with a bright and light heart."
A wicked little smile creeps into the corner of Latimer's mouth when I bring up the urban horror stories that her character tells the audience over the course of the show.
"Benita is a bit of a prankster," she admits. "In those storytelling sequences she's a kind of a spooky Cirque du Soleil ringmaster, and her stories loosely reflect what's happening in the play. It's sort of like Where's Waldo: here's the scary story - now find the connection to the other tales you're watching.
"I think of her as a big sister at a slumber party for younger kids, trying to do her best to scare the kids she's been asked to watch."
Despite the script's detached and sometimes brittle edge, director Jim Millan is encouraging the company to show the vulnerabilities beneath the flippant dialogue.
"I'm used to playing against the obvious emotions of a script," laughs Latimer, "but here I have to rip myself open and throw myself out there."