COLD MEAT PARTY by Brad Fraser, directed by Braham Murray, with James Gallanders, Cherilee Garafano, Erin MacKinnon, Ross Manson, Sarah Orenstein, Amy Price-Francis and Ron White. Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst). Runs to October 31, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday and October 30 at 2 pm. $25-$34, Sunday pwyc-$20, previews $12. 416-504-9971. Rating: NN Rating: NN
Relationships are difficult to es tablish and maintain. That idea's always at the core of Brad Fraser 's plays - behind all the wit, bitchy banter and musical beds in which the characters indulge.
Cold Meat Party also plays out the concept, this time with the focus on a trio of 40-somethings who've gathered at a Manchester B&B for the funeral of a fourth friend from happier university days.
As negative about themselves as they are sharp-tongued about each other, the three - Nash, a feminist filmmaker ( Sarah Orenstein ), Marcus, a gay has-been rock singer ( Ross Manson ) and Dean, a right-wing politician ( Ron White ) - have all in their own way had a thing for the deceased Keith, a novelist.
The others in the house are Marcus's partner Brynn ( James Gallanders ), Nash and Keith's daughter, Nancy ( Erin MacKinnon ), the mysterious Fritz ( Cherilee Garafano ) and their host, Amanda ( Amy Price-Francis ).
Much of the first act is slow, in part because of Braham Murray 's stilted direction, in part because the zingers aren't always very funny or the characters involving. People talk at others rather than to them, even in intimate or intense scenes. Then, happily, at the end of the act, Marcus and Nash have a real conversation and we start to care about them.
The second act works well at times as a contemporary sex comedy, while some of the characters begin to get fleshed out. Orenstein's Nash has both a nice edge and an internal vulnerability, both in regard to her peers and to her daughter, while White handles Dean's revelatory speech with great sympathy.
But Fraser's characterizations and Murray's direction, with its sometimes faltering rhythms, sabotage some of the other performances. Gallanders and the usually admirable Price-Francis try unsuccessfully to fill two-dimensional roles, and Manson relies too much on twitchy mannerisms that aren't very convincing.