At the Storefront Theatre, 955 Bloor St. W, Toronto, Ont.
Written by Brandon Crone
Directed by Luke Brown
Scenography by Claire Hill
Lighting by Melissa Joakim
Costumes by Julia Matlas
Original Composition and Sound by Jakob Ehman
Starring: Clint Butler
A provocative play from Brandon Crone about another edgy subject that goes in many directions, all of them leaving an audience unsettled.
The Story. Francis is a handyman. He renovated his own home; creates sculptures for his front yard, and still has time for a little business on the side—bondage and inflicting pain. He does a nice internet business to that end. David is his latest client. They complete a contract so that everything is on the up and up. David wants Francis to inflect pain on him for one week. He will be tied up; pain inflicted; sex too and it’s all consensual. Francis asks David if he has a ‘safe word’ to say if the pain gets too much, at which time the safe word is said, and the infliction stops immediately. David does not have such a word. Nor does he want one. I thought perhaps he might have picked “Jian Ghomeshi” as a possibility. But that’s two words. And I digress.
Arriving to disrupt matters is Mike, Francis’s nephew. He has been thrown out of his house because of a fight with his mother—perhaps because Mike might be gay but he’s not sure. Francis does ask Mike to stay and steers him clear of the basement where David is willingly tied up. Eventually Mike hears moaning and noise from the basement and is very curious about what is going on down there.
The Production. Scenographer, Claire Hill has created a disorienting ‘environment’ in which the audience enters the playing space through the outside of Francis’s home. Mellisa Joakim’s lighting is atmospherically murky. Patio furniture is upended, discarded it seems. There is a bench or two. I wonder if the play is to be played out here and the audience would stand around watching it. Then the theatre is opened and we are led into the playing space by Francis’s front door, with the requisite chairs for the audience and the set for the actors.
In the first scene between Francis and David, Francis makes much of the fact that he created all the wood carved statues outside. I don’t notice any. Are they there? Am I supposed to notice them if it’s dark and disorienting?
Francis’s living room is comfortable and rustic. There is a fridge up at the right. Beyond that is the door leading downstairs. Nicholas Rice plays Francis. He is quiet speaking, wears jeans, a simple shirt. Has longish hair. We are told that his true self is in the basement when he is tending aggressively to his client. We hear this from David after he has spent his week in that basement getting his money’s worth of pain. Clint Butler plays David almost two quietly. There is soft-spoken and then there is speaking as if you don’t want anyone to hear you. That’s what it seems like in Act II. Butler is almost corporate in his demeanour, confident, assertive, knows what he wants.
As Mike, Francis’s nephew, Jakob Ehman is the essence of awkward; slumped posture, furrowed brow, reedy voice. He’s embarrassed initially for coming to his uncle’s house but when he sees how accommodating Francis is, he eases into a routine. Then he hears the noise in the basement. He’s curious. Will he open the door and go down and see what’s happening? Will David burst through the door seeking relief from pain with no safe word?
Playwright Brandon Crone knows how to mess with an audience’s head. He leads us down the path of expectation and then veers off. He shows us a long, dangerous looking knife. We expect it to be used for no good.
Director Luke Brown of course plays into that manipulation of the audience as well. We don’t have cheesy music raising our anticipation of frightening things to come. I do find that some of his blocking, especially of Francis seems rather busy. I’m always intrigued by directors who have characters walk around furniture in an unnecessarily circuitous route to get somewhere when a simper, easier, straightforward route would make more sense. Francis scurries hither and yon on that set to get to something simply upstage. Odd.
Matters late in Act II take a strange turn. Scenes are very short and almost wordless regarding a change in the situation between Francis and Mike—I won’t give it away. More mind games from the always provocative Brandon Crone.
Comment. Provocative is definitely the word for Brandon Crone’s writing. I was intrigued and impressed with Donor, the last play of his that I saw. It was a dark, brooding play about a sperm donor and the various resultant off-spring who sought him out. One ‘son’ had dark motives. Another was more accommodating. Sexual tension suffused the atmosphere. The idea was intriguing.
Nature of the Beast also deals with dark, sexual tension, but from a sado-masochistic-business point of view, initially. Crone has a vivid imagination and interesting sense of story. However he should pay attention to the story’s structure in his next endeavour. Frances’s relationship with his nephew changes too abruptly here and the whole sense of time and scene changes is speeded up. It’s as if that section at the end is part of a different play. Still, I am anxious to see what Brandon Crone has in store for us next.
Safeword and The Lone Wolf Collective present:
Run: March 26 to April 11, 2015
Cast: 3 men
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.