MATHILDE by Véronique Olmi, translated by Morwyn Brebner, directed by Kelly Thornton (Nightwood). At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (Distillery District, 55 Mill). Runs to May 27. See Continuing, page 86. $28-$32, limited $10 rush. 416-866-8666. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
If Mathilde were about a middle-aged male writer who had had an affair with a 15-year-old, I'm not sure we would be watching it, or we would have seen it a couple of decades ago.
Here, the gender tables are turned. The adulterer is female, her partner in lust a 15-year-old boy.
That partly explains why Nightwood, the country's premier feminist theatre company, is producing it. The play is also French, which is important. There's a Gallic insouciance to the situation and dialogue that's hard to imagine in any other setting.
In an overly clipped, tense first scene, Mathilde ( Martha Burns ) returns home to her oncologist husband, Pierre ( Tom McCamus ), after spending three months in a detention centre. There are boxes and books strewn around, a bottle and glass. We're not sure if Mathilde is picking up her things to leave permanently, or whether Pierre will ask her to leave or stay, and that uncertainty adds to the play's tension.
Gradually, Véronique Olmi 's script translated by Morwyn Brebner subtly fills in details about the couple's history, including everything from their first meeting to the little memos they used to leave each other on the fridge.
The play is essentially a dissection of upper-middle-class ennui. What do you do when you're bored with it all? Mathilde's instinct is to bed a willing teenager.
What's odd is that her descriptions of her erotic encounters with the boy pale in comparison to her descriptions of her domestic life. There are snatches of gorgeous writing, like a vivid bit about waking up in the morning. But there are also plenty of "lost in translation" moments, as when Mathilde tells Pierre she "met herself during sex."
Burns, blinking as if trying to awake from a dream, delivers even that line with authority, and she's believable as a writer, capturing the tenacity and selfishness. McCamus, meanwhile, adds layers of ambiguity to Pierre.
Director Kelly Thornton regulates the play's rhythms with skill, and she's staged it cleverly so that the actors are exposed on all sides.
John Gzowski 's sound design, however, includes some low-level buzzing that will have you looking around for a short-circuiting amp.