Helen's Necklace by Carole Fréchette, translated by John Murrell, directed by Eda Holmes, with Raoul Bhaneja and Susan Coyne. Presented by Tarragon Theatre at the Extra Space (30 Bridgman). Runs to December 12, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2:30 pm. $20-$35, stu/srs $27 (Tuesday-Thursday only). 416-531-1827. Rating: NNNN
Pond Life written and directed by Gord Rand, with Ryan Blakely, Jeanie Calleja, Kerry McPherson and Ryan McVittie. Presented by Bloodreign Productions at the Factory Studio (125 Bathurst). Runs to December 18, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 4 pm. $15-$25, Sunday pwyc. 416-504-9971. Rating: NNN
Whenever a successful play returns, one of two things invariably happens. The production becomes deeper and richer - the artists discover more in the script - or it becomes exaggerated and hammy. We've got examples of both approaches in a pair of recently reopened shows.
Gord Rand 's Pond Life was one of the undisputed hits at last year's Fringe Festival. When I saw it in July - at a late-night performance at the Poor Alex - the tension and excitement was palpable. Sure, there were a few holes in the script, but the attractive cast skipped over them blithely, delivering the darkly funny lines with confidence.
A reworking of the dinner party from hell scenario, the play shows what happens when suburbanites Sandy ( Jeanie Calleja ) and Dick ( Ryan Blakely ) invite self-professed "edgy urban artist" types Daisy ( Kerry McPherson ) and Richard ( Ryan McVittie ) over for dinner. Before you can mutter the words Who's Afraid Of Edward Albee the four are climbing all over each other's bodies and sniffing out their weaknesses, getting ready for the kill.
The play still offers an intelligent, disturbing look at relationships, and Rand's clever one-liners ("Honesty is the new lying") and dead-on shots at earnest, self-involved artistes remain amusing. One of the funniest sequences comes when singer/songwriter Daisy, upset with how the conversation is spiralling downward to talk of death and armageddon, breaks out in song. It nails the character's self-indulgent banality in a few hilarious seconds.
As far as I can see, a few lines and a ghostly special effect well worth the money have been added. But a second look also reveals the script's and the production's weaknesses. The entrances and exits, especially in the first half, feel forced and awkward. Sandy's obsession with the preparation of cheese doesn't ring true, and there aren't enough details in the writing to make us understand her enthusiasm or why she's invited the couple over.
Worse, a couple of the performances are so broad they approach parody. Blakely's Dick sounds like a radio DJ doing Dick Van Dyke. And McVittie reveals his lout of a character's cards in his first few moments. Rand the director needs to learn about pacing, withholding.
Tarragon's returning production of Carole Fréchette 's Helen's Necklace clocks in at about the same running time - 65 minutes - but it's engrossing theatre from beginning to end.
It follows Helen ( Susan Coyne ), a North American woman who's stayed behind after a conference in an unnamed Middle Eastern city to try to find her lost fake-pearl necklace.
Driven around by a cab driver who speaks little English, Helen weaves through the city's bullet-ridden buildings and crevices, meeting other people who have lost much more than she or who are trying to rebuild their lives, too.
No Driving Miss Helen, this is obviously a metaphoric journey. Helen is searching for much more than a piece of jewellery - she's hungry to recapture the past. But Fréchette - one of the country's two or three best living playwrights - grounds the piece with illuminating details that involve us in her flawed characters' journeys and force us to look at the world around us.
Director Eda Holmes 's production adds texture to the subtle script. John Thompson 's set of bricks, a few columns and a couple of swivelling office chairs to suggest the cab works beautifully with Andrea Lundy 's gleaming lighting and Matt Swan 's soundscape.
Coyne remains fresh and open in the title role, which lurches continuously from interior monologue and narration to a series of sequences with strangers. Raoul Bhaneja , like Sanjay Talwar from the first production, breathes life into those strangers with ease, making us sympathize with characters that range from a mother who has lost her son to an engineer whose pity and disgust is captured in the single word "plastic."
Don't miss the remount.