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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Shifting power & perception in a struggle to communicate – Oleanna

Got out to see Unit 102 Theatre’s production of David Mamet’s Oleanna last night; the play is running in rotation with Neil Labute’s In a Dark, Dark House at Unit 102’s space at 376 Dufferin St., Toronto (just south of Queen St. W., on the west side of Dufferin).

Directed by David LaFontaine, and starring Linzee Barclay and Scott Walker, Oleanna presents the battle of two wills: Carol and John. The student/professor relationship plays out with increasingly higher stakes, shifting power dynamics, and an intensely frustrating struggle to communicate and be understood. The dialogue is classic Mamet – at times rapid fire, overlapping, fumbling for words, at others a debate – the language both profane and academic, everyday and elevated. Communication and perception – and how what is communicated verbally or physically is received, regardless of intent or original meaning – twist and pull, with the characters launching into a volcanic he said/she said. And, ultimately, actions really do speak louder than words.

Really strong work from both Barclay and Walker in negotiating the evolution of the characters and the mood of this relationship. And kudos for their handling of the dialogue, especially challenging in the first scene, particularly after being away from performance for a few days (they’ve been performing Wed. and Fri. nights, with a couple of Sun. matinées). Barclay lays out Carol’s growth and increasing confidence, from lecture hall wallflower to outspoken student advocate, while Walker navigates John’s shift from an assertive, irreverent prof to a man desperate to save his job and his life. Both in a riveting dance of shifting power and perception.

You have one more chance to see this production of Oleanna: Friday, August 29 at 8 p.m. Check out Unit 102 Theatre’s website for more info about the company, this show and their other productions: http://www.unit102theatre.com/index.html

Coming up: Catching Shakespeare in the Ruff’s Two Gents at Withrow Park on Friday night (they run until Sept 2).