MONTPARNASSE written by the company, directed by Andrea Donaldson (Groundwater in association with Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson). Runs to April 2. Pwyc-$35. 416-504-7529. See Continuing. Rating: NNN
Montparnasse, a play about women, art and creation, features a glamorous setting and an intriguing theme, but it's missing a few important brush strokes.
The two-hander, expanded from its successful SummerWorks 2009 production, focuses on a pair of young Canadians on the fringes of the modern art scene of 1920s Paris. Margaret (Erin Shields) has been in the city for a while and is the toast of la vie bohème (where she's called Maggs), having found well-paid work as a nude model and muse to lecherous male painters.
At the start of the play, Maggs's aspiring artist friend Amelia (Maev Beaty) arrives in Paris, although she's soon creatively blocked and broke. When Maggs shacks up with an artist, Amelia grudgingly takes over a few of her clients, disrobing and dispensing the odd bit of artistic advice.
Eventually, the friends' careers collide, leading to a climax that feels contrived and predictable. We'd feel more for them if we knew something about their backgrounds. What were their lives like in Canada? What was the basis of their friendship?
The script has little to say about the famous painters and writers of the time; names are dropped without exploring their work or the artists themselves. The closest approach to a well-known figure is Amelia's seduction of literary den mother Sylvia Beach, in a scene that crackles with tension and sexuality.
Despite the evocative title, there's little sense of place. Thomas Ryder Payne's sound design doesn't contribute much ambience, but Jung-Hye Kim's costumes (and Shields's period haircut) add a dash of authenticity.
Still, there's a worthy idea in the script about how much a model contributes to a work of art, and a sad coda about real-life models from the time who met tragic ends leaves a bitter aftertaste.
The chief reason for visiting this Montparnasse, however, are the two actors, who slip into and out of their colourful characters as quickly, comfortably and confidently as they doff their clothes.