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Thursday Theatre Review: A Quiet Place

I always get a little nervous when I go see a two person show with an all-male cast, particularly when one of the actors sports an impressive array of tattoos. One, or several, of the following tends to happen: there's a half-baked crime plot. Numerous unsubtle references are made to Quentin Tarantino. There is frequent yelling, swearing, and poorly executed stage violence. These things make me unhappy.

Lucky for me, A Single Threat Theatre's A Quiet Place delights in thwarting my expectations. For a brief moment, it looks like a Reservoir Dogs-esque kidnap drama before morphing into a very funny, very well-written and ultimately fascinating look at the dicey nature of reality.

A Quiet Place, part of the innaugural Next Stage Theatre Festival, is about two guys in a room. They don't know why they're there, they don't remember anything about their previous lives, and have no idea how to get out. If this sounds a bit like Beckett, it's because it is. The whole 'Waiting For Godot' oeuvre holds a particular fascination for playwright Brendan Gall (his upcoming Tarragon Show, Alias Godot, is ample testimony). But while Gall is happy to explore the crushing existentialism of Beckett's most famous creation, his play never seems derivative or trite. Through his characters, Gall alternately examines how we perceive reality, the tortured interdependencies of human relationships, and the lack of inherent purpose to existence. This is heavy stuff. So heavy, in fact, the various philosophical undercurrents threaten to overwhelm the narrative of the play. The themes are powerful and demand attention, causing the show to lurch towards a whole series of possible endings. And ultimately, the ending we get it a little unsatisfying. This is the fault of Gall's ambition, not any serious deficiencies he has a playwright. Indeed, his excellent ear for dialogue and ability to create both hilarious and touching moments helps keep his play from disappearing down the rabbit hole of solipsism.

If Gall's writing saves his play from itself, the performances of James Cade and Christopher Stanton make the show something special. As the mysteriously calm and eerily spiritual Henry, Cade brings a quiet intesity and profound vulnerability to the role. As David, Stanton is the perfect counterpoint- confused, hostile, and kinetic. Both portrayals are rich in both subtext and physicality, and the actors negotiate the play's speedy transitions between broad comedy and angst brilliantly.

Director Geoffrey Pounsett gives A Quiet Place a taught energy, never allowing the marauding themes to overpower the characters. He also manages to keep the show focused, even as the narrative begins to fuzz out under the yawing weight of its competing philosophical elements. Choreographer Emily Andrews also does a fine job, single-handedly creating one of the show's funniest moments.

All in, A Quiet Place is an ambitious script that raises more questions than it can possibly hope to answer. It strains under the weight of its own ideas, a situation that is both slightly exhilirating and entirely exhausting for the audience. But even if existentialist philosophy isn't your bag, it's still a well-written, genuinely funny play with some great performances. And it has nothing to do with Quentin Tarantino.

A Quiet Place continues until January 13th at the Factory Theatre. For tickets and information visit the Next Stage Festival site or call 416.966.1062.

Photo: James Cade & Christopher Stanton. By Lisa Stanton.

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