by Lynn on November 16, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Lower Ossington Theatre Cabaret until Nov. 24. Written by Penelope Skinner. Directed by David Tompa. Set by Jason Pooley. Costumes by Kendra Terpenning. Lighting by Andrew Smith. Starring: Claire Armstrong, Kristian Bruun, Jeff Irving and Helen Johns.

Produced by Red One Theatre Collective

British playwright Penelope Skinner certainly has a thing for clever titles. Her play, The Village Bike (which I saw in London a year ago) is not only about the bike that a character in the play buys for herself from a local villager who repairs it, it’s also about the woman’s penchant for sleeping around, making her, metaphorically, the ‘bike’ ridden by many and various men.

The programme note for Eigengrau (at the Lower Ossington Theatre Cabaret until Nov. 24) defines the word as: “the dark grey colour seen by the eyes in perfect darkness, as a result of signals from the optic nerve.” One can perhaps assume that Skinner is alluding to her characters being in the dark about their emotions and seeing only the ‘dark grey’ of a matter and not many shades of grey or even black and white. Perhaps that’s a stretch. In any case Skinner gets you thinking.

Ditsy, deluded Rose is chatted up in a bar by suave Mark and takes him home for the night. This is a surprise to Cassie, Rose’s serious feminist flat mate. Cassie found Rose on the Brit equivalent of Craigslist to share the rent. It proves to have been a bad move because Rose never has the rent. Cassie is surprised, and not in a good way, when she meets Mark. He is everything she despises in men: entitled (he’s very successful in business), smarmy, condescending, sexist. He gives her as good as she gives him in word-play. Naturally they are attracted to each other. Finally there is Tim, Mark’s friend who is living with him while he tries to settle. Tim is depressed because of the passing of his beloved grandmother. He tries to scatter her ashes but can’t bear to part with her. He has a menial job in a fast food restaurant, but fancies himself a caregiver.

Mark and Cassie give in to passion. Rose believes Mark is serious about her and can’t see that he’s not. She feels that if she appears to him at his door in a sexy new dress (bought with money that should have gone to the rent) he will see the error of his ways and take her back and continue the affair, marry her and they will live happily ever after. Rose inveigles Tim into the ‘game’ by arranging for him to answer the door when she arrives. Tim sees himself getting involved with Rose. When he said he would help her she says that she loves him. He takes that for fact and not the empty line we give people when they agree to help us.

When Rose recounts to Cassie her plans about Mark, she is quietly doubtful but keeps silent so as not to hurt Rose’s feelings. She realizes Rose is not ‘all there.’ Rose makes delusion into an art-form. But when Rose recounts Mark’s words of love to her Cassie realizes Mark has used the same lines when he was wooing her. Cassie reverts to her old self, not trusting this attractive man and breaking off the relationship. When Mark tells Rose they have no future, she does something terrible and drastic.

Without giving anything away, all four of the characters have some kind of revelation—which would suggest that they don’t all now see only that dark shade of grey seen in perfect darkness. This does not naturally lead to the proverbial ending. Skinner is too good a writer for that.

Director David Tompa works wonders on the Lower Ossington Theatre, Cabaret stage. The space is small and the scene changes are many. Scenes shift from various locations with a change of a curtain and shifting of scenery, although at times one would hope for a more efficient way of doing it.

Tompa is clear in establishing the relationships and personalities between characters and in even creating mystery as well. For example, while Mark has used the same line on both Rose and Cassie to win their affection, can we not believe that in the case of Cassie, it might not have been a line? That he really cares for her? The point is suggested in Jeff Irving’s performance as Mark. Irving swaggers with confidence, a solid smile, impatience in getting what he wants, but there appears to be confliction when Rose proves so needy and Cassie is wounded. There is confliction when he learns something about Cassie that is startling. Irving plays him so that there is doubt in our minds about his true intentions.

As Rose, Helen Johns must convey the bubbly, chirpy nature of Rose as well as her obvious delusion and perhaps even suggest that she is dangerous. Johns handles this with aplomb. The smile is bright and tight. The eyes dart at times and the decision to buy the dress and not pay the rent is the only decision Rose could make, and she convinces us that for that character, it’s true.

As Tim, Kristian Bruun is a mass of uncertainty; a walking, grieving sad man. He is so attached to his dead grandmother. He is so anxious to help anyone who needs it, so that he can feel useful. He finds his usefulness in an unlikely place.

And as Cassie, Claire Armstrong is bold, confident in her beliefs on feminism but so uncertain in her life that she disarms you. Her voice is a mix of smoke and steel. It’s a powerful performance. Interesting play. Solid production from the always solid Red One Theatre Collective.

Eigengrau plays at the Lower Ossington Theatre Cabaret until November 24.

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