LAST ROMANTICS by Michael Lewis MacLennan, directed by Richard Rose, with Oliver Dennis, Julian Richings, Jonathan Crombie, Barbara Gordon, Michael Hanrahan, Kate Hennig, Steven McCarthy and Vickie Papavs. Presented by Necessary Angel at the Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley). Runs to March 22, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Saturday 2 pm. $20-$39, Monday pwyc-$20. 416-368-3110. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Last romantics is an unusual kind of memory play. In this case the memory reaches us in shards.Painter Charles Shannon (Oliver Dennis), the narrator, suffers an accident that isolates him from others in his circle of aesthetes, but not from the audience, whom he addresses as witness to this historically based tale.
His partner in life and art, Charles Ricketts (Julian Richings), believes that Shannon is an artist of the calibre of Michelangelo and encourages his work with high hopes. But it's late-1890s England, and a variety of factors -- the arrest of their friend Oscar Wilde, changing taste in art and Shannon's sexual interest in his model Hetty (Vickie Papavs) -- affect the twin Charleses' public and private worlds.
Michael Lewis MacLennan's ambitious play, which ranges back and forth between the 1880s and 1930, is full of fascinating characters and clever dialogue, but it stays too much in the head and rarely reveals the heart. MacLennan's characters express ideas but don't feel very much, or even suggest that they could. Happily, director Richard Rose provides a theatrical counterbalance to the heady script, but he fails to clarify the show's first half-hour, when viewers are unsure of who's who or what's happening.
While Richings and Dennis ultimately convey the sense of a loving relationship between the central couple, there's a curious lack of chemistry between them. We don't need something out of Queer As Folk, but one key thing the production lacks is a subtextual sensual magnetism between the pair.
There's strong work from the supporting cast. Papavs makes an earthy Hetty, eager to rise into the sphere of her social betters. Barbara Gordon and Kate Hennig sharply sketch a lesbian aunt and niece who find happiness in their shared literary work and bed, while Michael Hanrahan presents a disillusioned yet still ironic Wilde.
Steven McCarthy stands out as the attention-seeking Aubrey Beardsley, a doleful dandy complete with yellow gloves, a wicked wit and a surprising secret.