At the Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St. W., Toronto, Ont.
Written and directed by Salvatore Antonio
Set and lighting by Simon Rossiter
Costumes by Innes Ciccone
Sound by Lyon Smith
Cast: Prince Amponsah
Taborah ‘Tabby’ Johnson
A remount of Salvatore Antonio’s sensitive, thoughtful play about intimacy, vulnerability, and sensuality with dollops of nudity. The nudity is not necessary for creating intimacy and vulnerability. The cast is new with one added scene. The results are terrific and very moving.
The Story. A hotel room. Various people come through there, separately, in groups or on their own. Some come for comfort and help. Some come for casual sexual experimentation. One is lonely and hires a young man for pleasure, something that seems new to her.
The Production. A bed takes up most of the room in Simon Rossiter’s set. There are two end tables and the usual stuff of hotel rooms. Up and to the right is the unseen door to the room, and near that is the (unseen) bathroom. A naked man stands with his back to the room. He has long wet hair. During the course of the play he will turn very slowly to face the room. His face looks grey. He will also circle the room, again, very slowly, while scenes unfold. He makes one journey around the room over the course of the 90 minute play; that’s how slowly he is walking. He almost never looks at the action. In only one case does he engage with another character. This is the room “Ghost” (William Ellis) who has ‘seen’ everything happen in that room; been a witness to it.
Lucia is the maid who cleans the room, changes the sheets and in her own way is also a witness after the fact. She sits on the bed with a dirty sheet in her lap, examining the various stains on the sheet: tears, sweat, semen etc. She voices what we assume has happened in that room to cause such stains. As Lucia, Taborah “Tabby” Johnson is a kindly, even a motherly presence. She is also efficient and meticulous when tidying the room.
A mysterious woman (Alice Snaden) wanders into the room to check it out it seems. She is urged to leave by Lucia who feels it’s inappropriate for the woman to be there as it’s not her room.
When the room is ready for the next guest Lucia leaves. After a beat Michael enters with a duffel bag and a suit bag. He is there for the funeral of a friend. He unzips the duffel bag; takes things out of it; unzips the suit bag and takes the suit out. He takes off his clothes down to his black briefs. Michael puts on the shirt and the pants but can’t button the shirt or the pants. He has no hands.
This is where art imitates life or vice versa. Michael is played by Prince Ampansah. Mr. Ampansah was in a devastating fire in 2012. Most of his body sustained severe burns. Both hands had to be amputated. His right arm was amputated almost to the elbow; the left arm was amputated above the wrist. You get the full sight of his injuries when he is in his briefs. What that man went through to live. Interestingly his feet seem unscathed.
Michael can’t do up his buttons and calls reception on his cell phone for help. As Michael, Prince Ampansah is calm and matter of fact when giving the reason for the call. Lucia arrives and sees the problem immediately. She carefully, tenderly does up the buttons, tucks in the shirt, zips up the pants and ties the tie. During all this Lucia shows Michael respectful sensitivity. This is not pity. The conversation is easy. Michael is a bit awkward, perhaps embarrassed, but is confident enough to understand his position and not to feel sorry for himself or to make Lucia feel embarrassed. Ampansah gives Michael a sense of courtliness, grace and while a bit frustrated, just gets on with getting on regardless of his physical challenges.
This scene beautifully establishes the sense of vulnerability and sensitivity that is present in all the scenes. It’s not the nudity that creates these feelings, it’s the situations and how the characters handle them that does it.
Ben, Adam and Sam (a woman) meet in the room for a three-way. They know each other from university and think it’s time they explored each other sexually. Ben and Adam arrive first and flirt with each other. When Sam arrives she sets the ground rules: they will engage equally. It will not be a situation where both men will just engage with her. She insists they engage with each other, a thought that makes them uncomfortable. They take off their clothes. Sam gets the two men in the mood by describing the two ways she gives a man a ‘blow-job.’ As Sam, Dayle McLeod is coy, deliberate in her sensual, slow delivery. She knows how to draw out a description for maximum effect. This is a woman who is sexually charged and knows it and she knows how to toy with these two men. Ben (Danny Ghantous) and Adam (David Reale) seem like innocent puppies when dealing with Sam, but they too rise (oops) to the occasion of the three enjoying themselves.
Finally Sonja is a woman of a certain age; smartly dressed but packed into a tight garment (my late mother’s word for something that gives the body a firm look) to achieve that look. She takes off her clothes to get a sense of relief. She examines her body in the mirror with both a hint of confidence and perhaps disappointment. She has hired a young man to come to her room for sexual pleasure. He’s early. His name is Cal. (She can’t believe that). She’s not prepared and she’s annoyed. She’s also nervous. Cal is boyish and confident in his abilities with this older woman. But then the tables turn. Sonja finds her confidence and loses her nervousness. The pleasure she has exploring Cal’s body, and his finding pleasure in this new situation is obvious too.
As Sonja, Jennifer Wigmore is stylish, but so beautifully vulnerable when this young man arrives. Her confidence builds gradually and it is totally credible. As Cal, Tyler Stentiford is buff, disarming and exudes a compelling sexuality. And while this is a business transaction there is pleasure in it.
Salvatore Antonio not only wrote this intriguing, arresting play, he also directs it with a dandy sense of how to establish the intimate relationships without making them look contrived. The sex is the least of it. The vulnerability and intense intimacy is everything.
Comment. Salvatore Antonio wanted to explore intimacy and vulnerability in this neutral space—a hotel room. Sex is always in the room in one way or another, as is nudity in one way or another. This remount of the production that first played in 2016 at Video Fag has been completely recast and one scene has been added, the one with Michael who has no arms. It would be a no-brainer to conclude that Antonio wrote this scene for Prince Ampansah. To begin the play with this achingly intimate arresting scene is masterful. We see a man terribly damaged, needing help with his buttons and not embarrassed to ask for it. Michael’s partner in this journey to intimacy is Lucia, the maid for that room. With kindness, tenderness, unselfconscious conversation Lucia helps Michael into his suit. This is one kind of intimacy and it is breathtaking. It is a fitting beginning to explore other kinds of intimacy through the play.
Beautiful work by all. Fascinating play.
Veritas Theatre presents
From: March 23, 2017.
To: April 9, 2017.
Saw it: April 1, 2017.
Cast: 9; 5 men, 4 women
Running Time: 90 minutes.
Box Office: 416-538-0988