ROAD by Jim Cartwright, directed by Mark Wilson, with Araxi Arslanian, Sheldon Davis, Deborah Hay, Christopher Morris, Stephen Sparks, Genevieve Adam, Sarah Wilson, Sara Wood, Jonathan Geenen, Shawn McDowell, Michael Spasevski and Benjamin Clost. Presented by Equity Showcase and George Brown Theatre School at Showcase (651 Dufferin). Runs to February 24, Thursday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2 pm. $20-$25, stu/srs $18-$23, Sunday pwyc. 416-533-9231. Rating: NNN
jim cartwright takes audiences on a bumpy, uncomfortable ride with Road. Society's have-nots fume, dream or distract themselves with drink or sex, but they can't change their situation.Set in a northern English town during the Thatcherite 80s, Road relies on a series of character studies rather than a story to plead its case. Both its humour and most of its dark tones are captured in this production, in which the audience wanders around a broken street (which seems to erupt like volcanic vomit in Lorenzo Savoini's fine three-level design), watches episodes in alcoves and sometime circles around the action.
George Brown's graduating students have been given the chance to work with established actors, and the partnership pays off. Among the pros, Araxi Arslanian and Deborah Hay wring both laughter and tears from their several characters, while Christopher Morris ties everything together as the philosophical, ribald and sympathetic Scullery, our tour guide to this unsettling set of characters.
Many of the less experienced actors are equally impressive, confirming the promise of their strong work in last fall's Love's Labour's Lost. Benjamin Clost and Sara Wood are wrenchingly tragic as a modern Romeo and Juliet, battered not by their families but by their entire world. Michael Spasevski stands out in an electric cameo as a skinhead who's found Eastern religion, while a quartet of bored, haunted young people -- Genevieve Adam, Shawn McDowell, Jonathan Geenen and the mesmerizing Sarah Wilson -- provide the show's final note of hopefulness.
Director Mark Wilson moves the action about skilfully, pointing up the characters' sadness, anger and tenderness, though not always catching the rock-bottom depression and desperation of some. If this occasionally poetic show feels overlong, it's because Cartwright keeps hitting home the same message again and again.