PHAE by Julian Doucet, directed by Daryl Cloran, with Leanna Brodie, Caroline Azar, Oliver Becker, Doucet, Kimwun Perehinec and Tova Smith. Presented by Collective Architecture Theatre and Steven Moore at the Factory Studio (125 Bathurst). Runs to January 18, Thursday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2:30 pm. $20-$25, Sunday pwyc. 416-504-9971. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Sounds ironic, but sometimes the time and budget constraints of a summer festival work to a show's advantage. Fact is, I enjoyed Julian Doucet 's Phae - a version of the Phaedre myth set in the American South - more when it was a fast-moving 55-minute SummerWorks piece than I do its current expanded and more slackly paced 90-minute remount. The script remains essentially the same. With her trucker husband, Big Daddy T ( Oliver Becker ), on the road, trailer trash queen Phae ( Leanna Brodie ) lusts after her stepson Hippolitis (Doucet) and confesses as much to her nosy hairdresser, Una ( Caroline Azar ), while the gossipy two-person chorus ( Kimwun Perehinec and Tova Smith ) look on, shocked and titillated.
Writer/performer Doucet carefully combines humour and pathos, but there's a patronizing tone to the show that wasn't there earlier. The trash element has been upped. The mullets are more pronounced (Becker is virtually unrecognizable beneath his ratty hairpiece), and the airing of dirty laundry soon becomes a tired design motif.
What's more, for a myth that's essentially about recognizing the animal in us all, there's too little exploration of that theme in the characters of Phae or Hippolitis. As for the Greek chorus, director Daryl Cloran carefully places them in nearly every scene, surveying the Jerry Springeresque landscape. But the two performers are asked to deliver their lines with a uniform crudeness that's numbing at times.
What remains from the original production is Brodie's focused, heart-breaking performance as the fallen woman. Like a Tennessee Williams character, she brings a dignity and high-strung intensity that makes her rise above her trashy surroundings.