UNIDENTIFIED HUMAN REMAINS AND THE TRUE NATURE OF LOVE by Brad Fraser, directed by Jim Millan, with Damien Atkins, Mary Krohnert, Michelle Latimer, Tony Nappo, Philip Riccio, Brendan Wall and Jenny Young. Presented by Crow's Theatre in association with Buddies in Bad Times at Buddies (12 Alexander). Runs to May 16, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $26-$32, Sunday pwyc. 416-975-8555. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Unidentified Human Remains still has life. Brad Fraser 's play was a hit for Crow's Theatre in 1990. In this revival, the tale of seven needy, love-seeking people in 80s Edmonton still resonates, with Fraser's sharp-edged humour a plus in a work that's part mystery, part flippant comedy, part sex farce. I still have problems with the script, whose abstract choral elements don't always work, and there's a troubling undercurrent of misogyny, but most of the characters are strongly written and engaging in performance.
Director Jim Millan 's more confident in this new version, and his juggling of verbal rhythms as well as the physical choreography of jump-cut episodes on Philip Beesley 's multilevel set, lit by Steve Lucas , is marvellously dexterous.
Through sexual longings gay, straight and bi, the characters are constantly seeking a deeper connection than the physical, though some of them deny it and have trouble trusting others.
At the centre of the whirling relationship triangles is David ( Damien Atkins ), a former child TV actor now waiting tables and having as many sexual adventures as he can. Atkins's fine comic timing gives David an edge, especially when he hints at sadness beneath the laughter, but he fails to capture the figure's sexual rapacity.
One of the play's strengths is that each character exhibits conflicting emotional drives. Michelle Latimer 's psychic prostitute, Benita, comes off strongly as a loving friend to David and a nasty joker to the audience. Tony Nappo 's Robert has both charm and a mysterious edge, while Jenny Young captures lesbian Jerri's sometimes insecure, sometimes aggressive search for a relationship. Philip Riccio 's poor young rich boy, Kane, infatuated with David, and Mary Krohnert as David's emotional roommate, Candy, both have affecting moments but could give their roles more nuance.
The strongest performer is Brendan Wall as Bernie, David's boyhood friend. There's a scary aura about him, a sense that he'll risk anything, that makes Wall the most mesmerizing figure on the stage. You might be fearful about what he might do to himself or others, but you can't stop watching this smouldering, smiling enigma.