high-gravel-blind by Paul Dunn, directed by Richard Monette, with Damien Atkins, Stephen Ouimette, Kimwun Perehinec and Chick Reid. Rating: NNN
Eternal Hydra by Anton Piatigorsky, directed by Andrey Tarasiuk, with Ouimette, Reid, Karen Robinson and Paul Soles. Presented by the Stratford Festival at the Studio Theatre, Stratford. Runs in rep to Aug 10. $28.15-$50. 1-800-567-1600.Rating: NNNN
The most important event of this year's Stratford Festival isn't a production. It's the opening of the new Studio Theatre, a 245-seat venue intended to showcase commissions and other new works. Fortunately, it gets off to a strong start with a double bill of one-acts. The title of Paul Dunn's High-Gravel-Blind comes from a father/son scene in The Merchant Of Venice -- appropriate enough, given the festival's Shakespearean mandate. The piece plays with both laughter and darkness in the tale of a reformed alcoholic who finds his son 15 years after abandoning him. In scared self-defence, the incognito son tells the overly serious father that his offspring is dead.
Dunn highlights the comedy in the first half, most notably in the lines for the gay son (Damien Atkins) and the father's Christian second wife (Chick Reid). There's a fine intensity, too, in the work of Stephen Ouimette as the insecure father.
But Dunn's writing needs editing, because it goes off on tangents and makes some leaps in character that seem unlikely.
There's greater richness in Anton Piatigorsky's Eternal Hydra, set in two time periods and recounting the history of a book, from its creation to its planned publication.
A lost novel by 30s modernist writer Gordias Carbuncle (Ouimette) reappears in 2002 in the hands of academic Vivian Ezra (Reid), who converses with the dead author and wants to publish his book. She's blocked by the man she's chosen as publisher (Paul Soles) and by one of the publisher's successful writers, black novelist Pauline Newberry (Karen Robinson).
Piatigorsky, always a thoughtful and intelligent writer, then takes us back to the 30s to see another version of Carbuncle and his Parisian milieu, with Reid as his assistant/researcher, Robinson as a tantalizing artiste noire and Soles as the publisher's own father.
With its thoughts on love, race, sex and who owns a creative work, Eternal Hydra is a powerful play, both in its performances and its writing. Too bad director Andrey Tarasiuk rushes it, sandwiching the production into a 100-minute slot.
That's too tight for what is properly a two-act piece, one that needs space to breathe and allow audiences to think about the heady theatrical blend they're watching.