William & JAMES by Robert Tsonos, directed by George Pothitos, with Mark Caven and Michael Schultz. Presented by Sometimes Y Theatre in association with Theatre Passe Muraille at Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson). Runs to January 26, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2:30 pm. $23-$32, Sunday pwyc. 416-504-7529. Rating: NNN
Just because there's no name for something, does it not exist?That's the fascinating central question posed in Robert Tsonos's ambitious new play, William & James.
Set in pre-Wilde Victorian England, it examines the sexual, economic and emotional power struggles in a discreet same-sex relationship over two years.
The married and disillusioned James (Mark Caven) wonders whether it's possible for two men to fall in love. After a one-night stand, he decides -- for reasons that aren't really clear -- to bequeath an estate to the younger William (Michael Schultz) if the man will stay with him for two years.
If the premise feels contrived, Tsonos redeems himself and the play by suffusing it with clear-eyed observations about relationships of all sorts.
A scene where the lovers argue and then re-enact a greeting says lots about denial and compromise, whereas a scene of the two men dancing in secret is heartbreaking in its quiet dignity and courtliness.
Tsonos also employs a painting motif to strong effect, showing us how to look at a work in various ways -- a lesson that can be applied to his own script. Who are these men? Why are they behaving the way they do? We keep shifting our opinions.
Filled with literary and even operatic echoes, William & James contains more than a touch of melodrama. But the committed actors and director George Pothitos also compel us to feel for the characters as they attempt to pursue a human relationship in a world that forces them to hide.