PHAE by Julian Doucet, directed by Daryl Cloran, with Leanna Brodie, Doucet, Caroline Azar, Oliver Becker, Kimwun Perehinec and Tova Smith. Presented by Collective Architecture Theatre and Steven Moore at the Factory Studio Theatre (125 Bathurst). Previews Saturday-Sunday (January 3-4), opens Tuesday (January 6) and runs to January 18, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2:30 pm. $20-$25, Sunday pwyc. 416-504-9971. Rating: NNNNN
what do you get when you com- bine the weight of Greek tragedy with the white-trash sensibility of Jerry Springer? Toronto audiences found out two years ago, when Julian Doucet's Phae, a version of the Phaedra myth set in a Southern trailer park, became a kitschy hit at the SummerWorks fest.
The self-dubbed trashedy takes over the Factory Studio this week, but don't expect a standard remount. No longer limited to the fest's 55-minute-max running time, the play - with a few key cast changes and a new director - has spread out to a more relaxed 70 minutes.
"For SummerWorks, we had to cut huge swaths of material, and characters had to go from zero to 60 at the top," laughs writer Doucet, who also plays the role of Hippolytus (pronounced Hippo Lytus in this version), the young man with a thing for nature who becomes the object of his stepmom, Phae's (Leanna Brodie), lust.
"There's a more natural timeline now. There's more music - banjo, ukuleles, singing - and the chorus is more fully integrated into the play."
Doucet's also had the experience of seeing Soulpepper's version of Racine's Phèdre last summer.
"I learned that the character of Hippolytus doesn't work unless he's a total moral snob," says Doucet. "He has to have that rectitude. Also, the play can be funny. If you play it too straight it's hard for an audience to digest - it feels less current and more museum."
As expected, though, maintaining a consistent tone in a show like this can be tough. How do you strike the right balance between camp and catharsis?
"It's been a struggle," admits Doucet, who's just been accepted into the National Arts Centre's playwrights unit.
"A lot of elements are over-the-top. There's a guy running around in underwear, a brassy drag queen type and a chorus delivering tabloid stories. We're trying to find ways to honour the classical antecedents but give it the zip to make the story fly."
Yet isn't it too irreverent to have a Greek drama's royal couple replaced by Springer clones?
"Royalty is and always has been in the tabloids," argues Doucet. "As far as status, Phae and her husband, Big Daddy, are the royals of the park - they own the land.
"Plus, to me, the trailer park is a mythological setting. All we in Toronto know about it is from watching Springer. So it easily becomes a place where you can play with the fantastical elements of mythology - all those things like incest and bestiality."