THE PESSIMIST by Morwyn Brebner, directed by Eda Holmes (Tarragon, 30 Bridgman). To May 27. Pwyc-$38. 416-531-1827. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
There's more than wheat growing in the Ontario farmland setting of Morwyn Brebner's The Pessimist. Passions, both illicit and licit, spring up in the country house where we meet an aging theatre director, his wife and assorted visitors and guests.
Director Marcus (Jim Warren) and Suzanne (Kristina Nicoll) are having problems; his health isn't great and she's looking for love outside the marriage, initially with playwright Wheal (Michael Healey), who's creating the script Marcus intends to stage in a toxic garbage dump.
Add a nubile young actor named Hesterpryne (Ieva Lucs), novice politician Philip (Graham Abbey) and the possibility of emotionless zombies in the wheat fields (John Thompson's set is full of sheaves, indoors and out) and you have a full house of comic possibilities.
Brebner exploits some of those possibilities, but despite lots of clever writing, the play's elements don't always come together. Hesterpryne and Philip, for instance, are innocents even when they turn to seduction. They provide moments of comedy, especially Philip's foot-in-mouth attempts at lovemaking, but they're not fully developed. The same is true of Wheal, who has a strong initial presence and then moves into the background.
The play, nicely paced by director Eda Holmes, works best in the relationship between Suzanne and Marcus, who genuinely care about each other in between the verbal barbs they toss. She's at the centre of the story a number of scenes begin with her nightmares and the husky-voiced Nicoll brings a richness to this troubled woman who fears she's turning into one of those unfeeling zombies she occasionally glimpses.
Warren's Marcus matches her subtleties as a man who won't face his physical or emotional problems, and their final heartfelt attempt to communicate gives The Pessimist an optimistic turn.