by Lynn on December 4, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Conception and direction by Allyson McMackon
Based on the one act play The Stronger by August Strindberg
Set by Lindsay Anne Black
Costumes by Dylan Bobier
Lighting by Michelle Ramsay
Starring: Liza Balkan
Andrya Duff
Chala Hunter
Viv Moore
Lucy Rupert

An interesting reworking of Strindberg’s one-act play of one-upmanship between two woman, in which the production overwhelms the story.

The Story. It’s Christmas Eve a Wife goes into a café and sees the Mistress there and begins a conversation (one sided in Strindberg’s version) saying how sad it is to see her there all alone. The Wife knows that the Mistress had a relationship with her husband before they got married. The Wife takes cruel delight in reminding the Mistress she went off with someone else but that didn’t work out. The Wife shows the Mistress the toys she bought for her children (the Mistress is childless). The Wife shows the Mistress the embroidered slippers she has for her husband. The whole short (10 minute) play is one sided. The Wife does all the talking. The Mistress reacts. We get hints at the relationship between the two women and even their relationship with the husband by the reactions.

The Production. Lindsay Anne Black has created a set of large cut-out Christmas trees on either side of the stage. The five actresses enter taking the same small zigzagy steps across the stage. They wear the same black and white dress, a hat and heels (Dylan Bobier, costumes) They all carry the same shopping bag from a chic store.

They will all play either the Wife or the Mistress over the course of the evening, speaking the language of Strindberg’s play but varying it with a different inflection here, more sarcasm there. Sometimes the subtle differences are not obvious in the variation. Other times the differences are eye-popping. At one point the Mistress is so frustrated and furious at the Wife (or is it the other way around) that the two slug it out, in one of the best stage fights in a long time. Kudos to Simon Fon for the terrific choreographed fight.

Because the five actresses are distinguished only in the order of their appearance it’s difficult to comment on individual performances. The five: Liza Balkan, Andrya Duff, Viv Moore, Chala Hunter and Lucy Rupert as a whole created a lively production with varying moments of effectiveness. The struggle between the Wife and the Mistress of course is to see who is the stronger in the relationship with the husband, and between the two of them. The wife is always trying to one up the (supposedly) silent Mistress.

Comment. The Stronger Variations has the distinctive stamp of an Allyson McMackon production for Theatre Rusticle. As the production’s director, and the Company’s Artistic Director, Allyson McMackon creates vivid productions full of physical theatre, dance, movement together with spoken word.

It’s interesting to see the Mistress’s reactions to the snide remarks of the Wife. Sometimes the reactions are as subtle as a knowing smile, when the wife floats a line at how sad and lonely the Mistress must be, being all alone in the café on Christmas Eve. Interestingly, the Wife is also in that café alone on Christmas Eve. One wonders why? To have a quick cup of tea before going home? Why? A lot of subtext there.

While I am always impressed with the imagination and execution of a Theatre Rusticle production, I think The Stronger Variations, at 85 minutes of physical theatre, overwhelmes the 10 minutes that is actually the spoken word of the one act play. I don’t think the play, full of subtleties and innuendo, is able to support such an onslaught of physicality. And as I said before, some of the variations are almost indistinguishable from each other. The slug fight seems a startling variation in light of some of the earlier slighter variations.

Presented by Theatre Rusticle.

Opened: Nov. 27, 2014
Closes: Dec. 7, 2014
Cast: 7 women
Running Time: 85 minutes.

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