THE VENTRILOQUIST by Larry Tremblay, translated and directed by Keith Turnbull (Factory). 125 Bathurst. To May 21. $23-$30, Sunday pwyc-$20. See Continuing, page 77. 416-504-9971. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
The Ventriloquist is like a series of Russian nesting dolls, one surprise hidden inside another. We first see a ventriloquist and his puppet, a young woman who angrily recounts the events of her 16th birthday. Then we're transported into the bedroom of this same woman, Gaby, now in the flesh ( Meg Roe ), who has a therapeutic session with the strange Dr. Limestone ( Nigel Shawn Williams ).
Larry Tremblay 's script is a piece of magic realism, with Gaby as a blocked writer whose shiny pen turns into reality whatever she creates on the page. Limestone intends to cure her, but not since Ionesco's The Lesson has a school-age woman had such an unsettling time with an authority figure.
The Ventriloquist is about the power of storytelling and how much the artist is able to control what he or she has created. Playing with the role of the narrator, Tremblay spins a series of tales within tales, some of which are filled with finely tuned description.
But the tales should intrigue us more than they do. Unlike the playwright's The Dragonfly Of Chicoutimi, which grew richer as one story world opened into another, The Ventriloquist cleverly but simply flip-flops between two points of view without accumulating resonance.
Still, this production, translated and directed by Keith Turnbull , captures the script's sexual suggestiveness and tension, with the increasingly aggravated Williams literally towering over the diminutive Roe. Her driven performance, with monologues sometimes spat out at machine-gun speed, is admirable, while Williams goes through a believable metamorphosis from childlike game-player to creepy manipulator.
The offstage voices of Andrea Da-vis and Robert Hamilton contribute to the surreal quality of the piece, as do Sue LePage 's subtly constricting box set, Michael Kruse 's lighting and Rick Sacks 's echoing sound design.