2 min

Brothers’ keeper

Down Dangerous Passes Road -- a dark and disquieting litany on life and death.

A psychological thriller about the strengths and failings of words, how they hide as much as they reveal. Credit: Xtra files

Blood may be thicker than water, but words are more scarlet.

Michel Marc Bouchard’s Down Dangerous Passes Road is a psychological thriller about the strengths and failings of words, how they hide as much as they reveal.

Three brothers are stranded on a remote country road after crashing their truck. The youngest, Carl (Brandon McGibbon), is supposed to be getting married, and is consumed by the image of his fiancée being stood up.

The middle brother, Ambrose (David Jansen), is a rural refugee living in Montreal; he has held his tongue for so long that his “pretty phrases” the brothers’ hold so dear have turned to poison.

The eldest, Victor (Tony Munch), is a womanizing drunkard who only finds solace in the woods.

The three brothers confront each other about what they have given and taken from each. Halting levity and small talk is constantly interrupted by subterranean passions, hopes and grievances.

At the core is a question of abandonment, how the brothers were disappointed and embarrassed by their drunken fisherman poet of a father, how they closed their ears to his poetry and how they turned their backs on a man who’s only treasures were his sons.

The play’s language is poetic; phrases and images are repeated. The poetry never feels oppressive or forced and is deftly handled by the cast under Sarah Stanley’s accomplished direction.

Only a couple of times did the language bump and feel unnatural – I don’t know if that is the performance, the direction, the script or Linda Gaboriau’s translation. But that’s quibbling. The dialogue must be terribly difficult to stage; it’s packed with astute observations and insights. The way the brothers provoke each other into rage and/or laughter is spot on.

The performances are all top notch. Jansen, as Ambrose, wonderfully portrays the most intriguing gay character I’ve seen on stage for some time. His lover is dying of AIDS, but Ambrose is bitter for so many more reasons than that.

At one point, the younger brother confronts Ambrose over his absence during their mother’s illness and death from cancer. Ambrose remains silent, his tear-filled eyes brim with anger, sadness, guilt and a steely determination not to give voice to his real feelings. It’s one in a series of very powerful moments.

“How could I go round in circles walking straight ahead on a straight road?” Victor’s question is picked up by his brothers. The question forms the central image of the play. It’s echoed in the structure, where time bends back on itself, the play ending where it began. It’s echoed in David Boechler’s effectively simple set, a straight, tree-lined gravel road, forming the bottom section of a vertical circle.

And it’s echoed in the crashing truck rolling fiercely in a ditch, a potent metaphor for life. At 75 minutes with no intermission, Down Dangerous Passes Road is a small, compact piece of theatre, a dark and disquieting litany on life and death.

* The play continues at the Factory Studio Theatre until Sun, Dec 2; call (416) 504-9971.