NANA by Emile Zola, adapted by Olwen Wymark, directed by Duncan McIntosh, with Jamie Sussman, Lindsay Ames, Roberto Esposito, Wesley French, Olga Konstantulakis, Mary Helen Teskey and Lindsay Wilson. Presented by Ryerson Theatre at the Abrams Studio (44 Gerrard East). Runs to December 2, Thursday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Saturday 2 pm. $15, stu/srs $10. 979-5118. Rating: NNNN
Largely defined as sexual objects, the women in Emile Zola's novel Nana -- courtesans, actors, wives -- manipulate the men of 1860s Paris to their own ends. Olwen Wymark's stage adaptation, presented by the Ryerson Theatre graduating students, captures the sexual game-playing that defines this glittering, upper-class world.Much credit goes to director Duncan McIntosh, who, working with 25 actors in a cramped diagonal space, brings to life the story's glamour, gossip and bitchiness. He gives striking theatricality to crowd scenes, most of which focus on Nana (Jamie Sussman), the "golden fly," a courtesan and sometime actor who feeds on a culture steeped in sensuality.
What he doesn't quite manage is to suggest life or emotion beneath the caustic surface, though Sussman's coarse, sexy, vulgar, impetuous characterization -- think a young, demanding Bette Midler -- easily holds our attention.
In Sabrina Louie's design, the women are more scantily dressed than the men but usually better defined as characters. Notable in the large cast are Lindsay Ames as Nana's icily practical maid, Mary Helen Teskey as a theatre and boudoir rival and Olga Konstantulakis as a mother who loses several sons to Nana.
Almost none of the men here can resist Nana's allure, including Joseph Adam as a brutal actor, Roberto Esposito as a callow young suitor and Wesley French as a seemingly puritanical but ultimately seduced nobleman.