Stem written and performed by Erika Hennebury, Greg MacArthur, Ruth Madoc-Jones and Clinton Walker. Presented by House of Slacks and Les Vaches at Buddies in Bad Times (12 Alexander). Runs to June 1, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $18-$25, Tuesday and Sunday pwyc. 416-975-8555. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
the cool and casual elegance with which Stem opens is deceptive. The audience walks into the theatre while writer/performers Erika Hennebury, Ruth Madoc-Jones, Clinton Walker and Greg MacArthur sit at an oversized square lucite table, chatting while we find our way to our seats surrounding them on all sides.Their initial conversations seem familiar enough. There are Seinfeld-like "oh, aren't we clever?" references to high school, family and food. What kind of wine do you serve with tacos? Mind if I check my messages?
But just when we start zoning out, wondering why we're watching such banalities, the work jolts us with a surreal bit here, a repeated line there.
Stem feels closer to dance than to straight theatre. Motifs recur, lines feel choreographed, and rhythm is important. A climactic scene has echoes in an earlier anecdote.
It's hard to pin down how the effects are achieved. The four characters, each called by the actor's first name, aren't fully three-dimensional. But we're forced to look deeper when the two women get angry over Marilyn Lastman, when Ruth tries to inject philosophy into discussions to no avail and when Greg obsessively checks his messages.
When Elvis croons Are You Lonesome Tonight? - another aural cue - it becomes clear that the show is about loneliness. Why do we get together at things like dinner parties anyway, if not to avoid loneliness?
One glitch. It's hard to know what to make of the title. Does it refer to a wine glass? Does it ask where things stem from? Is it a brain stem?
What Stem sets out to do it does well. The production gleams, the sound bores into our psyches and the banal observations stay with us. But I wish it had a little more substance.