Love and Human Remains: an excellent staging gives life to a dated play.

Love and Human Remains: an excellent staging gives life to a dated play.

photo Toto Too

The  title of the play (Love and Human Remains) by Brad Fraser written in 1989 and currently running at The Gladstone,  has the advantage of being brief.  However,  the  original title ,   Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love  seems closer to the themes and  content of this work that  helped expand the international  reputation of this exceptional Canadian playwrite.   Thus, one wonders why author Brad Fraser discarded the original title at our present time,  a title that brought his own   book, part gory mystery thriller,   part examination of the underlying violence implicit in the  search for  ones  identity   in a constantly fluctuating urban environment,  closer to  the novel  American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis.

In fact  the Canadian play  preceded  very closely  the  Easton novel that set off  a movement of middle class flashy style obsession with clothes and slick dressing and expensive tastes more interested in style than in substance even if it  accompanied senseless murder and cruel killing  by a serial  killer in Manhatten,   This is  touched upon very delicately  by the Canadian author in a much less bloodthirsty and almost light-hearted manner.

No doubt, Fraser wanted to keep his  distance from that too violent world of American psycho blood lust which was purely destructive. Thus he has created a character that links them both.  The ever so slightly chilling but also playful psychic Dominatrix, Benita, complete with leathers and whips and vicious playthings, keeps us in that atmosphere of sex and drugs and psychic torment  as she takes on the role of narrator, telling us about the evolution of David  (the neurotic young man with his troubled family relationships)  his highly sexually repressed brother Bernie,  caught in a trap between  his straight life and his ‘’other’ life;  there is also David’s  luscious blond female friend Cindy who brings him solace at tense moments when he isn’t trying to initiate the brazen and naive young Kane who doesn’t know what he wants.  Cindy  is also a character trying  to work out her own inner  confusion  with her friend Robert,  just as insecure  as the other individuals about his own sexual preferences  tinged with misogyny and repressed anti-gay reactions that would seem to reveal a boiling stew of  confusion in his own subconscious.   They all move through the apartment like a series of different musical themes, creating harmony and disharmony among themselves, the chaotic image of a contemporary  urban society coming to grips with all its inner tensions.

After those highly theatrical  performances of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, or la Cage aux Folles or the foregrounding of Ru Paul on TV which replace drag performances of all types, other forms of  performances seek to  naturalise a complex variety of sexual behaviours, something that comes through very well on more recent shows that suggest  what  Brad Fraser has already said is not new at all.   In fact his ideas appear rather dated which is a shame.  

What really appears most interesting is the way director Plante,  set designer David Magladry, lighting designer Karl Wagner, sound designer  Riley Stewart and  costume designer Teal Cochrane have all  concurred to navigate the creativity with the text as it is propelled  into the site of a fast paced choral performance, orchestrated impeccably by  director Chantale Plante. Each group is set up on  a  different mini  stage  in its own fixed area  as the voices  follow the  flow of repeated sounds  in different contexts to give the impression that the words have changed meaning  as they flow back and forth from each speaking  group.  At those impressive moments,  the  narrative between  characters works well but then as the narrative breaks down, the poetic moments that make the words reconnect, fall in together and create a ravishing poetry of speaking voices. Ones eyes and ears follow the voices around the stage, and the result is  moments of multiple mini-concerts that flit from one space  to another , filling the acting-space  with spoken word performance d creating much fun and joy with the harmony of sound and the disjounted nature of the meaning of the words.    In that joyous movement  of voices we hear and see  Bradley Sykes as David whipping around with perfect poise as a former  professional dancer by twisting his body with great talent,  even though he seems to overact a good part of the time, trying to create a  strong presence by exaggerating his facial expressions and his  physical work  which is not necessary because his character is already highly theatrical.

We liked  the   talented young  Alex Henkelman with his sullen gaze and pouty realism that sets his own stage in the middle of the action;   Alexander Lemours as Robert, and Kirby Naftel as Jerri, Candy’s friends from the gymn create perfect tension around Candy which fitted in with the movement of the whole. 

The most impressive presence was clearly  produced by Victoria Luloff as Candy whose slight  style of underacting  brought much emotional strength to her role as the highly challenged young woman who cant seem to find her own way in this carnival of desires.  Not only is she stunning but she reveals a great sensibility on stage and should really go on to much greater things.

Karl Wagner’s  perfectly  selected lighting effect, brings up mysterious lighting  spaces as  Riley Stewart’s  sound design inscribes bits from operas which are perfectly suited to the orchestration of the collective event.  Those moments were very moving!! 

Toto Too did its best to navigate through  what was essentially a most difficult text and the result was certainly worth the effort. All our congratulations to the whole team.

Love and Human Remains by Brad Fraser ends at the Gladstone on March 16.

A production of Toto Too Theatre at the Gladstone

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