BEYOND MOZAMBIQUE By George F. Walker, directed by Ken Gass, with Oliver Becker, Dmitry Chepovetsky and Sarah Orenstein. Presented by the Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst). Previews from Sunday (March 30), opens April 3 and runs to May 4, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Sunday 2 pm, student matinees Wednesday and Friday 12:30 pm. $25-$36, previews $5-$12, Sunday pwyc-$20, rush $10. 416-504-9971. Rating: NNNNN
There’s a scene in George G. Walker’s Beyond Mozambique that reminds actor Oliver Becker of one in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. In it, Becker’s character, a drunken Dr. Rocco, tells a missionary priest there’s nothing he can do to save a hopeless situation. An incurable fever has broken out in the Mozambican jungle around them. People are dropping like flies.
“It’s like where Martin Sheen goes up the river to talk to Kurtz and finds a man who has completely lost his mind,” says Becker. “Rocco is in this no man’s land in terms of what he can do, but he’s trying anyway.”
The setting of Beyond Mozambique (penned in 1974) may sound light years away from the streets of later east-end Toronto plays like Better Living or Problem Child, but its characters, says Becker, navigate similar emotional territory.
“What I love about Walker’s writing is that he puts these offbeat characters in very extreme situations,” he says, a week before the show begins previews. “Their actions toward one another may be cruel, but ultimately they’re just struggling to find a place in the world.”
The characters include a drug-addled priest, a former porn star and an Italian Nazi doctor who go to the African country to escape shady pasts, only to find themselves in an entirely new pickle. A native uprising is taking place, and the threat of violence is continually closing in.
The more they try to escape their pasts, says Becker, the more they find themselves mired in psychological quicksand.
“It’s like when the father in Escape From Happiness talks about how the world is crumbling around them,” he says. “There’s a sense that these people are at the end of an era.”
Becker is well equipped to talk about Walker’s characters and themes. Last year saw him play small-time crook Rolly and wayward priest Jack in the revival of Better Living and Escape From Happiness. Becker approached his new role as he did the others.
“Because Walker’s characters are in such bizarre situations,” he says, “you have to find the emotional truth of where they are coming from and somehow marry it to the crazy things that come out of their mouths.”
Take the opening scene in Mozambique. A character is wearing a human foot around his neck, and Rocco grabs it from him and asks, “Do you have to no respect for human life?” before chucking it into the bushes.
“As an actor, you have to commit to that line even though you may be giggling inside.”