The inescapable ghosts of the past meet tricks of the memory in the haunting, complex The Late Henry Moss

Anthony Ulc in The Late Henry Moss. Set design by Adam Belanger. Costumes by Janelle Joy Hince. Lighting by Steve Vargo. Photo by Curt Sachs.

 

Unit 102 Actors Co. takes us to an adobe shack in the middle of nowhere New Mexico in their intimate production of Sam Shepard’s The Late Henry Moss, directed by Scott Walker and running at their new home at The Assembly Theatre.

When Ray (David Lafontaine) arrives at Henry’s place after getting a phone call from his estranged older brother Earl (Mark Paci), their father (Anthony Ulc) is already dead, his corpse covered with a blanket on a cot. And when Ray presses Earl to repeat the details of the circumstances of Henry’s death, he gets the sneaking suspicion that something’s not right.

Earl got a call from Henry’s neighbour Esteban (Matthew Gouveia), who was worried about Henry’s welfare. We learn that Henry had a girlfriend named Conchalla (Jennifer McEwan), and a young Texan taxi driver (Michael Eisner) fills in the blanks about driving Henry on a strange fishing trip shortly before he died. Shifting back and forth between past and present as we see the story play out, we witness a tangled web of lies, secrets and selected memory unravel.

This is classic Shepard, featuring all the dark comedy, family dysfunction, alcoholism, secrets and haunting, conflicting memories—the stark realism tinted with moments of magic and poetry. The underlying sense of cruelty and violence starts at a slow boil, the heat getting turned up throughout with explosive results as inner demons are revealed and unleashed. In the end, the truth is both troubling, poignant and complicated.

Excellent work from the cast on this intense, intimate journey. Paci gives a compelling combination of a lost life lived in a state of exhausted estrangement and a longing to reconnect; there are things, moments, that Earl can’t bear to look at—but he finds himself unable to turn away from his dying father. Lafontaine’s tightly wound, mercurial Ray is the perfect foil for the more taciturn Earl. Menacing in his suspicion, and with a tendency towards cruelty and violence, Ray recalls bits of family history that his older brother has blocked—but memory is a trickster even for him.

Like Earl, Ulc’s Henry is a picture of haunted, hungover isolation; trying to forget, erasing his past with a bottle and a woman, Henry fears death as much as he courts it. McEwan is sensuous, mysterious and shaman-like as Henry’s girlfriend Conchalla; adding an otherworldly taste of magic, ancient tradition and heated romance—including some sexy choreography, with the dance illustrating their relationship—it’s like she’s acting as Henry’s guide to the next world.

Eisner’s taxi driver and Gouveia’s Esteban add some great—and much needed—comic relief. Eisner is adorably friendly and entertainingly cocky as Taxi; and, as Esteban, Gouveia is the sweet, guileless Good Samaritan with a lusty streak.

The inescapable ghosts of the past meet tricks of the memory in the haunting, complex The Late Henry Moss.

With shouts to the design team Adam Belanger (set), Janelle Joy Hince (costumes) and Steve Vargo (lighting) for transforming the venue into this blue and orange world outside of the rest of the world.

The Late Henry Moss continues at The Assembly Theatre until January 20; get advance tickets online.

 

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Choosing to collide in love – Stop Kiss

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Stop Kiss program – Left to right: Kate Ziegler & Melissa Hood (photo by Shaun Bensen)

Saw Gun Shy Theatre’s Toronto Fringe production of Diana Son’s Stop Kiss at the Tarragon Main Space last night. Directed by Shaun Bensen, and featuring a stand-out cast, it’s a play I was familiar with, but only on the page. And I was very glad to have gone out to see it.

Set in present day New York City, Stop Kiss reveals the evolution of the relationship between two young women, who start out as the friend of a friend of a friend, then become friends and more, their love put to the test when violence shatters a beautiful moment.

Bright-eyed and fresh off the plane from St. Louis, teacher Sara (Kate Ziegler) and jaded, long-time NYC resident and traffic reporter Callie (Melissa Hood) at first appear to be polar opposites, but find they have more in common than they first thought. And you know what they say about opposites.

Benson has a lovely cast for this production. Leads Hood and Ziegler do an especially good job with Callie and Sara’s unfolding attraction, bringing humour, conflict and sexual tension – not to mention the excited nervousness of entering strange new romantic territory – with nuance and honesty. And when that relationship is threatened by violence and misunderstanding, both fight and persevere – in scenes that are both infuriating and heartbreaking to watch. Can love really be stronger than fear? Callie, especially, finds herself having to choose between facing situations head-on or swerving to avoid them.

Fantastic work from the supporting cast. As the men in Callie and Sara’s lives, Stefano DiMatteo’s George (Callie’s friend with benefits) is a loveable guy’s guy from the block and Mark Paci’s Peter (Sara’s ex from St. Louis) is a stand-up, loyal, if not misguided, friend. Anthony Ulc brings a nice combo of hard-nosed warmth to Detective Cole; Trish Adams is delightfully kooky as witness Mrs. Winsley; and Ronnie Rowe’s nurse is the affable professional you want on your side.

This production is nicely staged for the time and space shifts, with minimal set, and the sound design incorporates ambient city sounds, pop music and moments of the attack, which we never see. And the ending… well, you’ll just have to see for yourself.

Stop Kiss continues its Fringe run at the Tarragon Main Space until Sunday, July 14. Click here for the date/time details.