by Joe Penhall, directed by Chris Abraham, with R.H. Thomson, Kevin Hanchard and Darren Keay. Presented by CanStage at the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley). Runs to November 1, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday 1:30 pm, Saturday 2 pm. $20-$46, limited Monday pwyc and half-price same-day rush. 416-368-3110. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Canstage gets the season off to a brilliant start with Joe Penhall 's Blue/Orange , an intelligent, provocative script that should kick-start some major discussions - about its themes but also about the sizzling acting and production. A day before Chris ( Kevin Hanchard ), a patient with borderline personality disorder, is to be released after 28 days in a London psychiatric hospital, two doctors - the novice Bruce ( Darren Keay ) and senior consultant Robert ( R.H. Thomson ) - disagree about whether he should be let go.
Is Chris, who claims he's the son of exiled Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and sees blue oranges, schizophrenic? Or does that diagnosis, as Robert suggests, imply a culturally insensitive colonial attitude?
Set against the backdrop of contemporary Britain, where hospital beds are as scarce as psychiatric professorships, Penhall's script provides no easy answers. Part of the joy in watching Chris Abraham 's production is seeing the characters' subtle traits - Robert's radical-turned-bourgeois pronouncements, Bruce's upper-class stiffness - play out, leading to the final teeth-gnashing confrontation.
Thomson delivers one of his strongest stage performances, using language and body as weapons, while Keay makes his naive doc's introduction to medical politics frighteningly convincing. (It's clever to put the similarly built Thomson and Keay, both with facial hair, on the same stage: Keay looks like he could grow into Thomson.)
Hanchard has the tough role of having to suggest mental illness without making it grandstanding, monotonous or show-offy, and he's eerily effective.
One quibble. The play is written in three acts, and Abraham combines the first two, which makes for a long and taxing first half of unarguably absorbing theatre.