STENCILBOY AND OTHER PORTRAITS by Susanna Fournier (Paradigm Productions/Next Stage). At Factory Theatre Studio (125 Bathurst). January 9 and 18 at 9:15 pm, January 11 at 5:15 pm, January 12 at 7:15 pm, January 13 at 9:30 pm, January 16 at 7:45 pm, January 17 at 4:45 pm, January 19 at 2:45 pm. 416-966-1062. See listing. Rating: NNN
Susanna Fournier's Stencilboy And Other Portraits comes to life as a romantic and artistic triangle, one in which both love and art are complicated, ensnaring concepts.
Along the way, it also deals with the power and politics of art and questions whether or not it's possible for art and business to be happily linked.
The play is set in a futuristic society where the poor have become poorer, the rich richer and all protests have been quashed; even art is in the hands of the few. One Artist - the capital letter is intentional - has all the power to create legitimately, while others, called scrawlers, create under the cover of darkness and, like many graffiti artists in today's world, have their work painted over.
Lily (Sochi Fried), a young woman from the country, travels to the city to convince the Artist (Richard Clarkin) to paint her picture. Before she meets him, she runs into Stencilboy, a city-hired painter who eradicates the scrawlers' work, though he's one himself.
Fournier's often clever script plays out the infatuations that involve the trio, which sometimes lead to physically and emotionally violent episodes. Alliances change, initially flirtatious conversations become intense confrontations and heartfelt confessions turn into ironic disclosures.
Under Jonathan Seinen's direction, the three actors give spirited, rich performances. Clarkin's tortured, anti-social Artist seems stuck in a role he no longer wants to play, anger and guilt working within him as he muses over an unhappy past (personal and professional) and hope for a happier future.
Coffey's charming, easy-going Stencilboy, shy beneath his bravado, becomes steelier as the play progresses; his meeting with the Artist, who wants to help the younger man out, seethes with sarcasm on both sides. Coffey shines in a number of well-written monologues, metaphorically called paintings, in which he comments on the action.
Fried's Lily is the fulcrum here, able to shift from simple openness to multi-layered intensity, from sensuality to cold rage, in a beat. She wants to be painted in order to be transported to another, better world, and when we learn her history we understand why. In several episodes, she transforms into a figure on canvas, conversing with those who've created various versions of the character.
Lindsay Anne Black's set, lit by Michelle Ramsay, makes good use of the small Factory Studio space, suggesting different locales and relying on frames of various sizes to create the world of the story.
The playwright raises a number of suggestive ideas about the nature and efficacy of protest, the point of art and how an artist's private life feeds her or his work, but the script needs further development. Lily could be better defined when she comes to the city's art gallery in the climactic scene, and the unseen character of Barbara, an important figure in the Artist's past, needs fleshing out.
Lily's also an artist, mostly through the photos she takes. But after making that point, Fournier doesn't explore photography versus painting, one that captures an image instantly and the other that's developed over time; how do they mirror each other, and how are they different?
Stencilboy And Other Portraits draws some fine lines (and scenes), but the three characters could use some fuller strokes.