HOW IS IT THAT YOU WANT TO LIVE? written and directed by Peter Reitzel, with Reitzel, Julie Reitzel, Dennis Frey and Michael Chipman. Presented by Canadia dell'Arte (186 Munro). Runs to May 6, Thursday-Sunday 8 pm. $10-$15. 416-406-0998. Rating: NNN
after exploring chekhov, baudelaire and Ibsen, it's good to see Canadia dell'Arte, one of the city's most exciting and committed young theatre troupes, attempt something that's a little closer to home in both geography and spirit.
How Is It That You Want To Live? sounds like a 19th-century translated-from-the-Russian title, but it's actually a moving and relevant -- if overlong -- examination of human suffering, dignity and potential.
Unbenownst to a blind architect (Dennis Frey) and his aimless downstairs tenant (Michael Chipman), a youngish couple (Peter Reitzel and Julie Reitzel) inhabit the crawlspace off the architect's living room. They read, listen to the radio, pee into jugs and sneak in and out without being seen.
Writer/director Peter Reitzel understands the absurdity of the premise -- some scenes of tiptoeing in the shadows are very cleverly staged -- but he also recognizes its poignancy. Underlying the play are some never-one-sided ideas about poverty, self-esteem and the romanticizing of artists.
Much of the show has an experimental feel, as if the playwright and actors were working out ideas onstage. Some details are brought up, then never resolved, and Reitzel has a few problems with tone. A stand-alone dream sequence works marvellously but comes out of nowhere and isn't carried through. A mention of Anne Frank seems gratuitous.
Still, there are moments of beauty: a character mummified in a colourful turtleneck, someone futilely blowing crumbs into a vacuum cleaner. The eerie soundscape deserves praise, too.
As performers, the two Reitzels inspire pity and laughter, while Frey does his best to create a character out of ideas. But it's Chipman who steals the show with his careful, understated look at a lonely, limited man who's brave enough to try changing.
An important step forward for the company.